Drew's Jay Murray (left) and Riverdale's Ti'Keem Cooper will help get a new Clayton County rivalry started tonight at Southern Crescent.
Not a game has been played in the Locust Grove-Ola series, but already the local Church’s Chicken has given it a name, a prize and a place of pride. It’s called the Backyard Brawl, there will be a Player of the Game named and the winner gets its name on the restaurant’s sign.
For eight Southern Crescent football coaches, this is the kind of week that requires no motivational ploys.
The only motivation needed is the opponent — the rival.
“It’s always nice as a coach,” Locust Grove coach Clint Satterfield said, “because you don’t have to worry about are they ready to play and motivate them. It becomes a pride thing.”
Four games tonight provide an intriguing mix of new, young and old rivalries.
Locust Grove hosts Ola; Drew and Riverdale play at Southern Crescent Stadium; Woodland hosts Union Grove; and Forest Park and Morrow play at Tara Stadium.
Combined, they capture the classic ingredients of high school football rivalries — proximity and tradition.
“Any time you’re in county and you’re close and the kids know each other, it’s just a good football atmosphere,” Woodland coach Scott Schmitt said. “It’s just a chance to see good football.”
Tradition is missing for three of the rivalry games. Locust Grove and Ola are meeting for the first time. So are Drew and Riverdale. Woodland and Union Grove are playing for just the third time.
That leaves Drew coach Jarrett Laws a little hesitant to call this a rivalry game yet. Proximity makes Riverdale and North Clayton natural rivals for Drew.
But the schools have never met before on the field, can they be considered rivals?
“We’d like to think so,” Laws said. “We’ve not done anything to earn the rivalry status yet. On our side of town, we view it as there are three kids — there’s the big brother of North Clayton, there’s the middle child of Riverdale and there’s the baby in Drew.
“The other two kids have been fighting for a lot of years. We’re just trying to see if we can get into the pillow fight.”
In fact, it will be Drew’s first game ever against a Clayton County school.
That was by design. When Laws left Mount Zion to start the Drew program in 2008, he intentionally avoided playing Clayton schools, even when county schools came asking. He wanted the Titans’ growing pains to happen outside the county, away from the eyes of Clayton coaches, players and fans.
“Perception is reality,” Laws said. “Had we lost some of those games in an ugly fashion, it had the potential to set our program back years.”
Speaking of years, Forest Park and Morrow go back quite a few. Two of Clayton County’s oldest high schools first played in 1974 and have played every season except 2002-03 and 2006-09. Morrow leads the series 19-13, though Forest Park has gone 8-4 since 1994.
For Ola, Riverdale and Union Grove, it’s a meeting with the schools that impacted their enrollment. When Locust Grove opened in 2008, it pulled significantly from Ola’s student body and feeder middle school. Drew did the same to Riverdale when it opened the same year. Same for Woodland and Union Grove; the Wolfpack’s student body had a Wolverines look to it when it opened in 2007.
Which creates the one element of a rivalry coaches said they work the hardest to overcome.
“Sometimes you see sloppy play at the beginning, because you’re so amped up,” Satterfield said. “You’re playing more with emotions than wit.”
Laws learned that during his tenure at Mount Zion. He emphasized the Lovejoy game during his two seasons and noticed adrenaline would get the best of players early in the game.
“They wanted their name attached to the rivalry in some kind of way,” Laws said. “I always encouraged our kids not to press and to let it come naturally. That’s one of the biggest things we’ve had to discuss with our kids this week. Don’t press, because if you press you’re going to fail.”