FLOWERY BRANCH — Young football players dream of having the opportunity to play on a professional field, but for the Buford Wolves that dream is becoming more like a yearly certainty.
Making their seventh trip to the Georgia Dome since 2000, the top-ranked Wolves (14-0) feel right at home in the arena of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.
They’re a perfect 6-0 in games played at the location, and with a win Friday night against Calhoun in the Class AA state championship game, the Wolves have a chance to repeat as state champions, taking home a title for the fifth time since 2001.
But what makes Friday’s game even more interesting for the Wolves is that the players will accomplish what most players can only dream about. On Friday, Buford will end its season right where it began, on the home field of an NFL franchise.
In search of an opening day game, and a year removed from beating Grove City (Ohio) 34-7 in the 2007 Herbstreit Classic at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio, Buford coach Jess Simpson fielded a phone call inviting his team to play in the event again.
Only this time the game would be played at Texas Stadium in Dallas, the home to the NFL’s Cowboys.
It was an opportunity Simpson could not pass up.
"To play in Texas Stadium in the last year it was going to be open, we were really blessed as a football program to have the opportunity to do that," Simpson said. "It was something that no one on our staff, our team, or in our community will ever forget."
Nor will the team of Mansfield Timberview (Texas), which Buford beat 42-21.
Winning the game made the two-day trip to Texas all the more memorable.
"It was awesome to play in a stadium with that much history and play where all the greats played," said Buford senior Jake Vaverka. "We had a chance to leave our mark there and it felt good to leave with a win and know that we showed up in Texas Stadium."
While admittingly nervous, the Wolves knew that they could perform in a stadium of that size. After all, they are undefeated in games played in NFL stadiums.
"There’s always nerves on the first play," said senior Ja’kar Bridges. "But after that first hit, you get used to it and are ready to roll.
"A stadium that size, it’s like, ‘Showtime.’"
Being able to provide his players with an opportunity to showcase their talents on a national level was not the only reason behind Buford’s opening day excursion.
"Exposure’s nice, but it’s really about the kids and getting to play on a big-time stage in a big-time game," Simpson said. "We talked a lot about it being like a bowl trip for high schoolers."
While their trip Friday will be much shorter than their trip at the beginning of the season, this week’s game in Atlanta has much more at stake.
Opening day was more of an exhibition, Friday night is for a championship.
But regardless of what the outcome of the game means, having the opportunity to play on an NFL field not once, but twice in one year has given the top-team in Class AA some inspiration.
"You don’t want to travel all the way to Texas or the dome and get shown up," Vaverka said.
With Buford’s history, it’s hard to imagine it will.