By Doug Gorman
Football fans in the Southern Crescent couldn't ask for a more appealing matchup to get the 2005 high school season started.
Although most teams won't kickoff the new campaign until Friday night, the Lovejoy Wildcats and Mt. Zion Bulldogs share the spotlight tonight in the season opener at Twelve Oaks Stadium starting at 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats come into the season opener with plenty to prove. A year ago, Mt. Zion beat Lovejoy to get the 2004 season started, but both teams made the playoffs in their respected classifications.
Lovejoy advanced all the way to the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs, while Mt. Zion saw its season come to an end with a loss in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
Again, both teams come into the game expecting to be competitive. In a poll conducted with Region 4-AAAAA coaches and members of the media, Lovejoy has been selected to win the region, edging out Starr's Mill.
Tonight's kickoff begins a new era for the Mt. Zion football team as Bob Ryan officially becomes just the second coach in the history of the program. Ryan takes over for Jackie Green who retired at the end of last season after becoming the second winngest coach in Clayton County history.
Ryan is no stranger to Mt. Zion. Before getting his promotion, Ryan served as an assistant coach under Green since 2000.
This is Ryan's first opportunity to serve as a head coach at the high school level.
"There's been a lot of work to do that just goes along with being a head coach of the field, so it's been a pretty busy time, but I am looking forward to finally getting out here and coaching in a real game."
Ryan has been excited by the turnout for football practice as more than 95 players have been showing up for practice.
"I am really pleased with those numbers," said Ryan. "The turnout has been good, and everybody is really enthusiastic."
The key for Mt. Zion will be stopping Lovejoy's high-powered offense engineered by quarterback Mario Fannin, who has already committed to play college football at Auburn.
"Playing Lovejoy in that first game presents a tremendous challenge for us," said Ryan. "It will be a tremendous test."
Lovejoy looks to avoid last year's slow start, which included losing to both Mt. Zion and North Clayton to open the season.
The Wildcats went on to win six straight games, including shootouts against Starr's Mill and Riverdale.
"(We) are looking to rebound from the loss of a tremendous graduating class," Hughes said earlier this summer. "With some young players making contributions, we can hope to have a solid season."
Other rivalries will also open thins weekend as Forest Park plays Morrow, Riverdale takes on North Clayton, both on Friday, and Jonesboro plays Mundy's Mill on Saturday.