By Doug Gorman

New turf has been put down at Tara Stadium and Friday the Riverdale Raiders and the North Clayton Eagles will be the first high school football teams to play on the new surface.

The marching bands are tuning up and cheerleading squads have worked tirelessly on their routines for weeks.

There's only one thing left to do n wait for the kickoff.

The anticipation for fans, coaches and players comes to an end Friday night as high school football finally begins.

A year ago, Riverdale compiled a successful season, including a trip to the playoffs, but the use of an ineligible player forced the Raiders to forfeit several of those games.

North Clayton just missed out on the playoffs a year ago after going 5-5.

Now both schools are anxious to move forward.

Although he admits he is more laid back now than in past season openers, Riverdale head coach Rodney Hackney still gets excited about coaching in the first game.

"I guess I have matured a little bit over the years, and might not show it as much, but I still get excited inside to coach that first game," Hackney said. "We have been practicing and scrimmaging long enough, now it's time to play for real. Besides it's a great rivalry with North Clayton."

Lovejoy, which won eight games last year and made it into the second round of the playoffs, opens its season Friday against Forest Park at Twelve Oaks.

Forest Park is led by Howard Stearns, one of three new head coaches in Clayton County.

Stearns is anxious to take the field.

"We're really excited and were going to give it our best shot," he said.

Mundy's Mill won't play until Saturday when they kick off against Peachtree Ridge. The second-year school fielded a football team last year, but this will be the Tigers' first official varsity game. The game has been moved from Twelve Oaks to Tara Stadium.

Morrow head coach Dorwyn Lyles and Jonesboro's Larry Mortonson were hired to take over the football programs at their respective schools during the offseason.

Lyles and Mortonson have to wait a week before making their debuts, but the two coaches face each other in the season opener for each team. Kickoff in that game is set for Twelve Oaks Stadium next Friday.

Mt. Zion also must wait a week before playing its opener. The Bulldogs face Lovejoy at Tara Stadium on Sept. 5.