Time: 9 p.m., ESPN2
Coaches: Buford – Jess Simpson, 11 years (123-18); Trinity Christian – 24 years (220-59)
Last meeting: Have not played each other
Players to watch: Buford – Jr. TE Isaac Nauta, Sr. RB Joshua Thomas, Sr. WR David Curry; Trinity Christian – Sr. QB/ CB Kevin Toliver II, Sr. S Doentai Williams, Sr. LB Victor Alexander
Jess Simpson knew that if he was going to schedule a season opener worthy of his zealous fan base, he better schedule the best team he could.
As a result, one of the country’s most highly touted defenses will meet last year’s highest-scoring offense in the state at 9:00 tonight at Tom Riden Stadium.
Buford (15-0, Class AAA Georgia state champion in 2013) opens the new season by hosting Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) for the first time.
Maxpreps.com ranks Trinity Christian as the second -best high school team in Florida and the seventh best team in the nation, after they routed Clearwater Central Catholic 34-7 to win last year’s Class AAA Florida state championship.
“No doubt,” Simpson said, when asked if he wanted to use the opening game as a benchmark for his own team. “You want to have something exciting and motivating for our kids and our community. They’re motivated and when you move up a classification, you realize teams are going to be better and have deeper talent. As a football team, you need to start off your best at the beginning of the year."
The Conquerors (12-1 in 2013) arrived in Georgia on Friday ahead of the Week 0 showdown that will be broadcast live on ESPN2. Trinity Christian returns five standouts from ESPN’s Top 300 players in the Class of 2015, including cornerback and Louisiana State University commit Kevin Toliver II. Toliver is one of seven seniors on the defense who have either committed to play in college or have received multiple offers.
Head coach Verlon Dorminey’s defense made the difference in last year’s AAA championship game when they gave up just eight points a game and held the state runners-up to three scoreless quarters.
“That’s about as strong of a defense as I’ve seen in high school football,” Simpson said. “It’s hard to find a matchup you like, as a coach. There are a lot of battles in front, as well as on the perimeter.”
Dorminey has been tempering title talks ahead of the team’s season opener. He told the Florida Times-Union that he had his toughest coaching year after the Conquerors won the Class A state championship in 2002. Like this year, Trinity Christian brought back a lot of talent for 2003, when they would win 14 straight games en route to another state title.
Buford has the offensive pieces to give their visitors a fight. Seniors Nick Polino and Austin Smith will anchor a strong offensive line to keep the pressure off quarterback Luke Humphrey as he looks to find tight end Isaac Nauta and receiver David Curry in space.
Senior running back Joshua Thomas (1,064 yards, 16 touchdowns) will need to provide an impact on the ground for Buford, which will hope to win its 16th straight season opener. The team’s last loss to begin a season was in 1998 when Lincoln County beat Buford 30-6, back when the Wolves were in Region 8-A.
Nauta, Buford’s leading receiver as a sophomore, racked up 389 yards and five touchdowns to help his team break the state record for points scored in a single season (707).
Simpson said he was looking forward to an “unbelievable environment” with the Buford masses making themselves heard for the first game day of the 2014 season. Fans have been buying tickets in “droves,” according to the coach.
“Truthfully, we know we’re playing a great opponent, but being successful is making sure we know what to do and not focusing on them,” he said. “I think the defenses will have a lot to do with how this game is played. You’ve got to avoid giving up big plays to stay in it and make sure you’re ready to play in the second half.”