FCA East-West Classic
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville
Tickets: $7 at gate, children 5 and under admitted free
Teams: East - Flowery Branch, Johnson, East Hall, Banks County, Riverside Military Academy, Jefferson, East Jackson. West - Gainesville, West Hall, Lakeview Academy, North Hall, Jackson County and Commerce
For some, old habits die hard.
On his first day of practice before tonight’s FCA All-Star football game, East Hall defensive end Alan Silva said he looked across the field at Johnson High and instinctively wanted to go tackle his new teammates.
“Some of these guys, we played against them, we knew them, but playing with them, it’s a different mindset,” Silva said after a Tuesday practice. “But now they’re our teammates and we’ve got some really great people out here.”
After a full season of hard-fought county rivalries, Silva and the rest of the area’s top seniors will collide at Gainesville’s City Park Stadium for the second annual FCA East/West Football Classic.
The game kicks off tonight at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 at the gate and children ages 5 and under will be admitted for free.
The East team is made up of players from Flowery Branch, Johnson, East Hall, Banks County, Riverside Military Academy, Jefferson and East Jackson. The West team features seniors from Gainesville, West Hall, Lakeview Academy, North Hall, Jackson County and Commerce High.
This is the first year that the four Jackson County schools have been invited to the game, which also includes talent from all nine Hall County schools, as well as Banks County.
“These kids have wanted to see where they stand with the best players around here,” said Jackson County coach Benji Harrison. “They’ve really enjoyed getting to play more football.”
Nine players from both Gainesville (10-3 in 2014) and West Hall (9-2) earned roster spots to Tony Lotti’s West team after highly successful seasons. The Red Elephants advanced to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs for the fourth straight year, while the Spartans clinched their first region championship in program history.
However, several Gainesville standouts will not suit up for the All-Star game, including 8-AAAAA first team selections Chris Williamson (14 touchdowns, 1,061 yards) and JD Sosebee (115 solo tackles).
But FCA Team West will still have strength on defense with West Hall’s Ty Statham and Commerce’s Derek Benoit lining up opposite Team East standouts like Jefferson quarterback Evan Shirreffs (23 touchdowns, 2,693 yards) and Chestatee wide receiver Marvin Rosario. The East squad will be coached by Flowery Branch’s Chris Griffin.
“It’s bittersweet,” Statham said of playing in his final football game. “Because I feel like I’m leaving my home.”
Rosario was scheduled to compete in a boys basketball game against Wesleyan High School on Friday night, but basketball coach Chad Pittman released his shooting forward to play in his final game as a football player.
Training with the best of the area’s talent has been a fun experience, according to Rosario, who came back to football for the War Eagles in his senior year.
“It’s not what I was expecting coming in,” he said. “It’s like a second chance to do what you love. We build off of each other’s energy and it makes these practices go a lot easier.
The East and West teams will gather at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville on Friday to listen to a speaker before a charter bus will take the players to Bobby Gruhn Field for the game.
Some players, like Viking wide receiver Junior Lee, will use the East-West game as an opportunity to garner more collegiate attention from scouts and coaches. Lee said he’s been recruited by several schools throughout the South and wants to use his final opportunity to make a lasting impression.
“I want to get after it,” he said. “Hopefully I can play well and represent FCA well. It’s fun, especially when you’re playing with people you played against in the past. You can let them know if they beat you or they’ll let you know if they beat you.”
Honorary players who will not suit up include Lakeview’s David Abee, Riverside Military Academy’s Avery Cagle and East Hall’s Abraham Sepulveda.
Clint Fair, an FCA representative, said he was excited about adding the Jackson County schools, adding that he didn’t believe the event would add any more schools for “several years.”
Johnson coach Jason Roquemore, a linebackers coach for the East squad, said the FCA event was a “win-win” for players, coaches and fans that provided one final chance to combine teamwork, tradition and football in one night. Whether the players have intentions of continuing football or not, he’s heard nothing but positive reactions about the All-Star game.
“Some of these kids, they’ll get the chance to play, and for some, they’ll begin the game of life,” he said. “My hope is that this continues to grow.”
The rivalries certainly will, Silva said. Throughout the week’s practices, the defensive end has been gaining motivation from every hard hit and block his new teammates make.
“If someone makes a play, I want to do what he did or better than he did,” he said. “There’s a little bit of a rivalry, but we’re all a team now.”