Those planning to go to Donell Woods Stadium tonight should leave early to get good parking spots and seats.
The start of the regular season of high-school football brings the highly anticipated matchup between Liberty County High and Bradwell Institute at 7:30.
Bradwell is ushering in a new era under first-year head coach Adam Carter. The former Camden County assistant coach and defensive coordinator has sparked the Tiger community and fan base. Spectators during the spring and summer watched the new coach and his staff during practices. Carter wasted no time getting his players into the weight room, into shape and looking like a new program.
“We’ve done a lot of good things this summer, and we’ve done a lot of good things at camp getting ready for a game, not just getting ready for Liberty County,” Carter said. “We are trying to make sure that Bradwell is getting better and not just focusing on who we are playing as much.”
He said opening week is a fun time for the student body, school administrators, teachers and fans. But his focus is on the game and on the players.
“This is a special opportunity for me, but it’s about the kids and they’ve worked really hard for this,” he said. “We’ve been focusing all week, not necessarily worrying about who is lining up across from us but worrying about what we do.”
What the Tigers are going to try and do is avenge the loss the Panthers gave them last year when the game was played on the newly reconstructed Olvey Field.
Folks also will be lining up to see what a true highly touted, Division I-caliber national recruit looks like in action. Liberty County High School’s Raekwon McMillan is, according to ESPN.com, the No. 1 linebacker prospect in the country and No. 14 of all players in the Class of 2014. But while McMillan, who has yet to decide on a college, is sure to be the focus, he is just one of several returners on the Panther defense that led them to a 6-4 season last year.
Panther coach Kirk Warner said he has a gut feeling about this year’s team.
“I think it is the leadership … the work ethic, and we actually have a lot more depth than that team,” Warner said, comparing this year’s team to his 2009 squad that made it to the second round of the playoffs. “It’s a combination of those three things, and sometimes as a coach you just have that feeling about the way guys work, communicate with each other and the way they carry themselves. Taking all that into consideration, I think we are going to be primed for a pretty good year.”
Warner said school spirit has been up at Liberty County High, with everyone selling T-shirts, tickets and reminding the fan base that Friday is the big night. At Bradwell, the newly formed Tiger Touchdown Club has been selling tickets and shirts and prepping a brand-new trailer the club purchased to haul the team’s equipment this season.
“And that’s the thing about this being the first game of the year … you put a lot of emphasis on it because it is the crosstown rival, and it is a big deal for the community and for the school and a big deal for the kids … They’ve played with those guys across the road nearly all their life,” Carter said about the game’s hype.
However, Carter is keeping things in perspective to achieve a greater goal.
“But in the big picture, this game is very small for what we are trying to accomplish,” he said. “Our goal is to be in the playoffs come week 11, and as long as we are getting better leading up to that Effingham game, we still have that chance to reach our goal.”
Warner said his team has been looking forward to the first game since spring.
“It’s always important to get off to a good start … Everybody wants to start off on a good note and we are no exception,” he said. “They (the players) understand what’s on the table and they know what is at stake. Our seniors have not tasted a defeat to Bradwell, going back to the two scrimmage games and then last year. I’ve been here long enough and have felt defeat by them, so I just told the players they don’t want to be on the receiving end of that for the next 365 days.”
As for ushering in a new era and starting on his new career as a head coach, Carter said it still circles back to the players.
“I’m excited about it. I’m nervous, but its good nerves,” he said. “We’ve done a lot here in the last couple of months to get us going in the right direction. And I’m excited for the kids … to be able to see them playing in a live football game and seeing how they respond and seeing how they play.”