When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Maginnis Field, Riverside Military Academy
Ashun Favorite was sitting in his living room when he received the news.
Favorite learned in a group chat featuring friends from the Gainesville football team that he and twin brother A.J. had been selected to play in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes East/West Football Classic. Those players had heard first and wanted to pass the good news along to the West Hall defensive backs.
Now Favorite is in a much bigger group chat — one with 40 people, to be exact.
That’s the size of the two all-star squads that will face off in the fourth annual FCA East/West Football Classic at 1 p.m. Saturday at Riverside Military Academy. Coaches from each participating school nominated four seniors apiece using criteria that went beyond on-field performance.
“The coaches feel it’s very important to choose kids with strong character who are great representatives of Hall County, FCA and of their schools,” said East Hall coach Bryan Gray, who’s serving as Team East’s quarterbacks coach. “We really put a stringent process on the players that are picked. It’s an honor.”
Gray will help coach players from Flowery Branch, Johnson, East Hall, Banks County, Riverside Military Academy, Jefferson and East Jackson.
Team West, which will be coached by Jackson County coach Brandon Worley, is comprised of players from West Hall, Chestatee, Gainesville, North Hall, Lakeview Academy, Jackson County and Commerce High.
Each school has at least one coach on its respective team’s coaching staff. After each school submitted its four nominees, the best available players were chosen to fill out the 40 roster spots for each team.
“It’s a good feeling. It’s an honor to be recognized because a lot of people don’t make it,” Ashun Favorite said. “It’s good that they see us as some of the best players in Hall County.”
For most seniors from Hall County, Banks County and Jackson County, the All-Star game is a chance to close out their football careers playing alongside some of the best in the area.
For some of them, however, it’s another chance to extend their playing days.
Take East Hall running back Deon Ellison, who’s using this final high school game to show his stuff to college scouts and recruiters who’ll be in attendance. Gray, who has coached in each FCA East/West Football Classic, said scouts have stopped by past games and requested film of participating players.
“I’m looking forward to showing recruiters what I got and just playing to the best of my ability for the last time,” Ellison said. “Hopefully I get looked at after this game.”
Johnson coach Jason Roquemore, who will coach Team East, acknowledged that added dimension to the game. He and the other coaches are trying to put players in the best position to succeed Saturday, but they don’t have much time to do it.
Each team has only three 90-minute practices this week, severely limiting the time coaches can install plays and packages in terminology that may be foreign to most of their players.
“Getting a scheme that is simple enough so they can pick up both offensively and defensively in the amount of time that you have is probably the biggest challenge,” Roquemore said. “But the good thing about it is these kids that play in this game have played a lot of football. So they’ve got high football IQs, and they pick it up pretty quickly.”
Then there’s the matter of team chemistry, a situation Gray said tends to work itself out by the second day of practice.
The team group chats help ease that process. Favorite said FCA quickly made a chat on the messaging app GroupMe once the nominees were announced, and a player created another one for the team soon after. Players use GroupMe to discuss practices and to get to know one another a little better before they hit the field together, Favorite said.
Ellison and Favorite both said they’re already friends with a few players on each team. But whether they’re playing alongside old buddies or bitter rivals, Gray said he has seen players form fast friendships thanks to the All-Star game.
“They come out and at first, they’re kind of nervous and don’t know each other,” Gray said. “But by Wednesday night at the second practice, they’re all like long lost friends having a great time.”