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September 29, 2010
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
It was only Tuesday, but Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County coach Jeff Herron already was in game-day mode.
Or, perhaps, let's call it big-game mode - when you start to set the mood for a tough challenge, like the one his team will face when it travels to take on Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas Friday night.
"We get to see if our kids are as good as their 87 college prospects," he said. "I may have to talk a few kids into getting on the bus."
Don't believe him. His team, ranked No. 5 in the RivalsHigh Top 100, will be ready. So will No. 6 St. Thomas Aquinas.
Both teams figure to challenge for state titles at the end of the year - they always do - but when they meet in the nationally-televised game, it will be a chance to see where they stand nationally.
"We get to see where we are at as a program," Aquinas head coach George Smith said. "You work all off-season to be in a position to test yourself against the best competition and we have that chance against Camden Country."
Herron, his tongue no longer in cheek, echoed the sentiment.
"We are trying to keep it business as usual," he said. "It is an extremely exciting challenge and opportunity."
It is also a matchup of two teams that probably share only one thing in common - success.
Camden County is a rural program not traditionally littered with Division I college-bound football players. Instead, it relies heavily on the process of football - learning the game, executing what is practiced, being fundamental in your success. Then repeat.
This process has produced back-to-back Georgia Class AAAAA titles and consistent rankings inside the RivalsHigh 100 Top 10.
St. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, is a top-flight private school program. The Raiders won the RivalsHigh 100 National Championship in 2008 and was the 2009 preseason No. 1 team. Success is synonymous with the school. It sent nine players into college football from its 2008 team, 12 from last season's team and has no fewer than seven seniors on the current 2010 team who will sign their names on Signing Day.
Interestingly enough, the talent of the teams isn't on the mind of either coach.
"We play teams with more talent on paper than us all the time," Herron said. "What worries me is that their coaching staff is very good. They are very experienced and they will know how to stop our offense. I am sure they know how it works and we have to be ready to execute."
Smith's experience, as well as the experience of all his staff, will need to translate to the play on the field in order to stop the Wildcats' quick-hitting Wing-T offense.
"I am concerned about stopping it," he said. "We can not duplicate it in just a week of practice. We don't see that style of football down here. Our kids are not used to seeing it or stopping it."
But while both coaches were complimentary of the other's programs, there is a certain confidence that each staff feels heading into this game.
"Nothing is old hat for us," Smith said. "We have played on television and we have played big games, but each is different and we are excited to prepare for it."
Herron agrees, and takes it one step further.
"Having done this stuff before makes it easier on us. And them too," he said. "We have been on TV and in front of hostile crowds so the nerves shouldn't be there as much. Both teams should be ready to go."
The two teams have frequented out-of-state competition in their respective escalations as national powers.
Camden County has played and hosted Hoover (Ala.) High and Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast. Earlier this month, it hosted and beat current No. 22 Miami (Fla.) Central, 45-42.
Aquinas has played Dallas (Texas) Skyline, Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes, and Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder in the last three years.
It is the experience against one team in particular that Camden County can look to for guidance.
"When we played Miami Central, they had more talent than any team we will see," Herron said. "They were high-risk, high-reward on offense so we got used to the talent and explosiveness. Aquinas has that explosiveness about them too, but they are also very disciplined and can run the ball right at us and take the clock onto their side."
Controlling the clock is usually the calling card of Camden.
However, one other external force could play a factor in the game.
A tropical depression is headed toward Florida and could forecast plenty of rain - and an extra dose of handoffs.
"We have a turf field," Smith said. "So the conditions shouldn't play too much of a role. It could hurt the pass game a little but we expect to be playing a tough game and not a track meet."
Those expectations, and even the rain, are music to the ears of the Wildcats.
"We can not control any of that. We are just going to prepare for this game like anything else," Herron said. "Like a state championship game. Heck, we have made longer trips to Atlanta than this for a state title game. So we are used to that as well."
So figure Camden County will be ready to play - provided all of its players get on the bus.
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