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Ready or not, Luella plays host to Villa Rica

Luella has a scrimmage under its belt. Not necessarily a very good scrimmage, but just enough to knock the offseason rust off its helmets and let the Lions get a taste of what lies ahead.

So when they kick off the ninth season in school history tonight at home against Villa Rica, the Lions won't be facing an opponent for the first time.

The teams are getting a jump on most teams in the state, by special permission of the Georgia High School Association. Theirs is one of 26 games across the state this week. The schedule was put together when Paul Burgdorf was coach.

“Like any coach, I think we could use some more work, but the kids are ready and the coaches are ready,” Luella coach Nic Vasilchek said Thursday. “Last year, we didn’t play a scrimmage and it just killed us. So at least that helped us get the jitters out.”

Henry County, a team many expect to be a Class AAA playoff contender this season, won 31-9 in the scrimmage, in which the varsities played for three quarters. Vasilchek didn’t come away discouraged.

“Physically, we moved the ball on them,” Vasilchek said. “But we turned the ball over too many times. I’m pretty pleased with the effort.”

Villa Rica isn’t the same team that overpowered Luella on the way to a 41-8 victory last season. The Wildcats changed offensive philosophies when they changed coaches. Rob Cleveland left to start the program at New Manchester in Douglas County, and Villa Rica turned to Mike Falleur from Northwest Whitfield.

“Villa Rica has got a brand new coach with 25 years’ experience, who has taken two teams to the final four,” Vasilchek said. “In talking to him, I expect to see a disciplined team. He told me he’s old school and that he’s not going to put up with a lot of individualism.”

Expect to see Villa Rica operating more out of the shotgun, rather than last year’s Wing-T.

The Lions hope to stop the Wildcats with a defense that will be led by all-region cornerback Alvin Hill but will also feature junior linebacker Manny Lowery, who has battled a knee injury that required two surgeries to fix.

Offensively, the Lions will try to take advantage of Laquez Freemon, one of their pleasant surprises during preseason workouts.

“He’s taking over the No. 1 running back spot,” Vasilchek said. “I texted him about that Sunday and he was so excited. He said he couldn’t believe this. I told him to keep running hard.”

He’s not the only Lion who has worked hard. Now, Vasilchek would like to see them rewarded for their efforts.

“I’m hoping to show that hard work pays off, and I’d love to reinforce that with a win,” Vasilchek said. “It would be a real shot in the arm and be good if we could pull it off.”