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Local graduates march onto grand stage at title game
Hall graduates to play with Georgia, Alabama marching bands
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Georgia band members perform during halftime of the game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia defeated Oklahoma 54-48 on Monday, January 1, 2018, in the 104th Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, California. (Juan Lainez / MarinMedia.org / Cal Sport Media via AP Images) - photo by Associated Press

College football fans, with the help of a little booze or sheer anticipation, may not need much else to get pumped for the big game.

But staying loud and rowdy after kickoff can be difficult to maintain over the course of three or four hours.

That’s where the school band steps in.

“We liven up the atmosphere,” said Oscar Campos, who plays tenor saxophone as a member of the University of Georgia Redcoat Marching Band and a Chestatee High School graduate. “We’re the ones getting the fans hyped.”

Come Monday night, when the Georgia Bulldogs play for the national championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide, Campos and his Redcoat bandmates will play as long and loud as necessary to keep fans engaged and the team supported.

“We have a larger influence than people recognize,” said Kaitlin Houston, a Johnson High School graduate who now plays clarinet in the Redcoat band.

From pep rallies to tailgate parties to game day, the influence is so embedded is might be overlooked. But Houston said she and her bandmates take nothing for granted.

“Giving the experience to the fans is one of my favorite things,” she added.

For former Hall County students, the opportunity to play for their band in the biggest college football game of the season, with so much on the line, is a dream come true.

Alex Merritt, a Flowery Branch High School graduate who plays mellophone in the Redcoat band, said the band is invested in team’s success and a direct representation of the university.

That was evident before, during and after the Bulldogs incredible win at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year’s Day, a victory that sent Georgia to the national title game.

The band participated in a parade leading up to the game, entertained fans tailgating outside the stadium and blasted song after song during the epic showdown where the Bulldogs prevailed in double overtime 54-48.

“I’ve always revered the Rose Bowl,” Merritt said. “You can’t really get much better than that. I was in awe of the whole thing.”

For Houston, the experience at the Rose Bowl, an iconic venue that the Bulldogs had not played in since the days of World War II, was a “once in a lifetime experience.”

But it’s not all about the Bulldogs. Alabama is well represented by its own Million Dollar Band.

Micah Ward, also a Flowery Branch High School graduate, plays the baritone for the Crimson Tide band, something that makes his family so proud.

“It’s absolutely a blessing,” he said. “I’ve been an Alabama boy all my life.”  

For Ward, the title game on Monday is chance for his school to achieve a little redemption after losing the championship to the Clemson Tigers in the waning seconds of the championship last year.

“To come back this year to give your fans energy” is what it’s all about, Ward said. “We create the atmosphere so the fans are pumped all the way through.”

The Alabama football team is used to playing on the biggest of the big stages. But for Georgia, this is their biggest game in 35 years.

“I can’t believe it’s happening,” Campos said.

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