PREP OPENERS: SECIS Classic kicks off high school season
By Tim Gayle
The 2017 high school football season kicks off this weekend with the second annual Southeastern Commission of Independent Schools Kickoff Classic at Cramton Bowl, featuring three games on Friday and three more on Saturday.
The event kicked off last year with two games each day and expanded this year as additional private schools asked to participate in the prestigious regional event.
One of those new additions is Autauga Academy, which has spent the summer playing some of the best programs in the Southeast in seven-on-seven competition.
“That’s all fun (in the summer) and that makes us a lot better because that prepares us for games like this,” Autauga quarterback Tripp Carr said. “When you play against the best, that prepares you for what you’ll see in the season. Valwood is a good program. We’re not taking them lightly. We know they’re a good program and we know they’re going to give us their best.”
Formed in January, 2016, the Southeastern Commission of Independent Schools is an academic and athletic collaboration of the Alabama Independent School Association, the Georgia Independent School Association, the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools and the South Carolina Independent School Association. SECIS serves its member state associations by providing leadership management for interscholastic activities that promote academic achievement, good sportsmanship, and regional cooperation.
The Friday lineup includes Frederica Academy vs. Parklane Academy, 2:30 p.m.; Terrell Academy vs. Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate School, 5 p.m.; and Bessemer Academy vs. Lamar School, 7:30 p.m.
Frederica Academy all-state athlete Ja’Shawn Sheffield is one of the event’s top athletes, sporting collegiate offers from Florida State, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Florida, LSU and Miami. Trinity-Byrnes lost to Brookwood in last year’s event 31-0 but return multi-purpose back Mateo Thompson and tailback Javontay Robinson. The Bessemer-Lamar matchup features defending state champions in a rematch of last year’s game won by Bessemer 35-13.
“It’s a great venue, playing in Cramton Bowl, plus it’s playing somebody that you’re not going to see again during the year and it’s state pride,” Bessemer coach Josh Wright said. “Lamar, I expect them to be better this year. I think both of us learned a lot about each other, but the (2016) game was actually closer than the score. Those six picks (by Bessemer defensive backs) turned the game around, but we really didn’t move the ball on offense.”
Lamar quarterback Joseph Hutchinson, the backup last year, returns for the Raiders and will match wits with multi-purpose star Xaviar Coleman, who had 995 receiving yards and 1,610 all-purpose yards a year ago.
“He’s a humble kid,” Wright said of Coleman, who was initially recruited as a defensive player but is now turning heads with his playmaking abilities on offense. “But the bigger the game, the better he plays. The better the competition, the better he plays. He’s one of the best players in our league. I just have to find ways to get him the ball.”
Bessemer and Lamar, from Meridian, Miss., played in the final game last August. Brookwood defeated Trinity-Byrnes last year in the opening game, followed by MAIS Madison-Ridgeland Academy beating GISA Valwood School 34-2 and AISA’s Escambia Academy beating SCISA’s First Baptist School of Charleston 35-12.
While Escambia graduated many of its stars on the way to the Class AA finals, the Cougars have reloaded with another talented team but will face a challenge in stopping AA state champion First Baptist and its star running back, Michel Dukes, who rushed for 2,239 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2016.
The Saturday lineup includes Autauga Academy vs. Valwood School, 2:30 p.m.; Brookwood School vs. Marshall Academy, 5 p.m.; and Escambia Academy vs. First Baptist School, 7:30 p.m.
Six of the eight schools returned to compete in the second Kickoff Classic, but for Frederica, Parklane, Terrell, Autauga and Marshall, this weekend is a unique experience.
“I appreciate (AISA athletic director) Roddie Beck and (AISA executive director) Mr. (Randy) Skipper asking us to represent the AISA,” Autauga coach Bobby Carr said. “We’re real excited about it. To open the season with an opponent from another state – and they’ve had a lot of success in the past – it’s kind of like in the SEC with ‘Bama when they open up with USC last year and Florida State this year, that gets your kids’ attention. It gets their focus where it needs to be. And it’s done that for us.
“At the beginning of the year, everybody’s excited. And we get to play in Cramton Bowl. Our kids are excited about that.”
The cheerleaders will be as excited as the players. Scorching temperatures and mid-afternoon games can’t dampen the spirit of the season opener.
“No one else is playing that week,” Tripp Carr said. “We know they’ll be a big crowd and that’s what we want. We want everyone to see what we’ve got. There’s nothing better than playing on the big stage.”
SECIS FOOTBALL CLASSIC