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Corky Kell Classic: Cherokee Bluff eager to get season going against Kell on Wednesday
Bears playing the first regular season game in the state for 2022
Cherokee Bluff football 2021
Cherokee Bluff's Max Eubanks (15) scores a touchdown against East Forsyth on Sept. 3, 2021 in Flowery Branch. Photo by Paul Sasso MV Photo Concepts

While Friday Night Lights has become the most popular generic term for high school football in recent years, Cherokee Bluff is gearing up for a case of Wednesday Night Lights.

The Bears will kick off the 2022 season for not only all of Hall County, but all of the state when they square off for their season opener Wednesday against Kell in the Corky Kell Classic.

“The biggest challenge us playing on a Wednesday,” Cherokee Bluff coach Tommy Jones said. “That kind of convolutes everything you do preparation-wise. It’s two days, but it feels like two weeks because you’re having to practice on Saturday and having to do some different things you normally wouldn’t do.”

Aside from the different game day and the excitement, Jones says that there will be a lot from him, his staff and players to unpack when they tee it up for their 5:30 p.m. kickoff at Johns Creek High School.

“There are so many unknowns right now,” Jones said. “We have a very young football team. We graduated all of our major production from last year, particularly offensively. We’re going to start probably four seniors and about seven or eight sophomores. So that tells you how young we are.”

The Bears will, indeed, hope to find out a few things about a lot of new players Wednesday night, especially with very little experience returning from last year’s 11-1 team that won the Region 7-3A title and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs for the second straight season. 

Army-committed senior offensive lineman Jacob Benjamin, senior receivers Jhace Justice (14 catches, 274 yards, 3 TDs in 2021) and Max Eubanks (23 catches, 383 yards 3 TDs) and senior Jacob Benjamin and juniors Nathan Richardson and Parker Waldrop are the main players with the most experience among those Bears taking the field.

Just as big a concern for Jones and his staff is that there is a lot for Kell (6-5 in 2021) that is also unknown.

The Longhorns return some important production from last season, including dual-threat quarterback Davion Hampton and fellow seniors Ryan Barrett at running back and Josh Barker at defensive line.

However, they are also breaking in a new coach in Bobby May, who rolled up a 27-10 record and two region titles in three seasons as head coach at Westlake before taking the job at Kell.

Therefore, Jones says that it’s not that easy to get a read yet on exactly how May and his staff will try to utilize their personnel.

“When you watch a new coaching staff’s previous school’s film, you can get an indication of what they’re going to do, but that doesn’t always pan out,” Jones said. “Obviously, they’ve got some different staff members, different coaches. They did not have a (preseason) scrimmage, so in saying all that, we don’t know very much about them either.

“We saw a little bit of film (of Kell) from last year, and it’s obvious that no matter who they have and what they do, they’re going to be extremely athletic. We have all the respect for Coach May. … We know he’s put together a great staff. The good news is that early in the season, it’ll give us a great indication of both who we are and what we need to work on.”

There is one other unknown about both teams that Jones and May should find out a lot about Wednesday night.

With the two teams playing in the state’s first official game of the season on a large stage of one of Georgia’s premier early-season events that includes a television audience on Peachtree TV, both coaches should find out just how well their young players react to being in an exciting atmosphere.

“It’s a huge opportunity for Cherokee Bluff,” Jones said of being part of the Corky Kell Classic. “In our fifth year of existence, to be able to play in a game in this setting, I think most people would acknowledge that the Corky Kell is a premier event in high school football in Georgia.

“We’re certainly excited. It will be interesting. Like I said, there are a lot of unknowns, and how we’re able to handle a game like this is one of them. Our whole focus has just been on preparing as well as we can and giving our guys the best opportunity to succeed.”

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