Photo by Heather Middleton
By Derrick Mahone
Drew has taken a step in putting its football program on the big stage.
The Titans, which will play their second season of varsity football this fall, will host one of the Georgia vs. Florida Gridiron Challenge, a two-game showcase on Sept. 3 at Tara Stadium.
Drew will take on Episcopal High of Jacksonville, Fla., in a nightcap while Columbia will go against Pine Forest of Pensacola. The day will begin with three area youth league teams playing against teams from neighboring DeKalb County.
"We were able to get in on a heck of an opportunity," said Drew football coach and athletics director Jarrett Laws.
On the same weekend, powerhouse Carrollton will host a three-game showcase featuring teams from Georgia and Florida. This is the third year of the Gridiron Challenge, which is spearheaded by Billy Fleming, the event director.
The event was made possible when Columbia agreed to play one of the Florida schools. Most high school contracts in the state are done on a two-year basis. Last season, Drew and Columbia played at Panthersville Stadium in the second week of the season. Columbia won that game 20-6.
Laws said that Columbia's coach and DeKalb County athletic director Ron Sebree were both on board to play in the game.
"For me, I feel like we are putting Clayton County on a national stage," Laws said. "This is a chance for us to emerge as a new program. This showcase event is growing all over the country."
During the 2009 and '10 seasons, Fleming said that he hosted four games each year. He anticipates there to be 23 games this season.
"Our biggest thing is to reach out to all schools, no matter the size to make this available," Fleming said. "It is definitely growing. You don't have to be a North Gwinnett or Grayson to reap the benefits."
Laws is hoping that the entire county will get behind this event to help it grow into a traditional early season event. He chose Tara Stadium because it is centrally located and has turf to withstand the five games.
Drew will open the season at powerhouse Cairo before the Gridiron Challenge. Laws was raised in Florida and coached two seasons at Freedom High in Tampa before coming to Georgia.
In their first season on the varsity level, the Titans finished with a 2-8 record. The signature win was a 14-7 upset on then-ranked Eastside on the road.
"We are trying to develop this program into a playoff contender," Laws said. "You have to be willing to take chances to grow."