For the majority of Hillsboro and Oakland’s football players, Friday night’s nationally televised game will be a brand new experience.
For Oakland senior JaCoby Stevens, it’s nothing new.
“This is going to be my third time playing on ESPN,” said Stevens, who played in Ensworth’s 2013 win over Trinity (Ky.) on ESPNU as a freshman along with Oakland’s 2014 loss to Blackman on ESPN2 as a sophomore.
“It’s surreal. But really and truly you don’t even think about it when you’re playing on the field. You’re just focused and keyed in on the game, so honestly, ESPN is a great honor to play on, but you really don’t think about that while you’re playing.”
Unlike his first two ESPN showings, Stevens, will be the star attraction for the Davidson-Rutherford showdown, which kicks off at 7 p.m. at Ray Hughes Stadium on ESPNU. The two-way starter is a five-star LSU commitment who is ranked No. 1 in The Tennessean’s Dandy Dozen,
“That’s what ESPN wants — kids that are three-star, four-star and five-star,” Hillsboro coach Craig Clayton said. “I don’t think they really care how good the game is, they just want good kids in it.”
While certainly the biggest name, Stevens is just one of a handful of highly rated college prospects who will take the field.
“I think Middle Tennessee has a lot of talent, and that’s why they initially looked for a team in this area,” Oakland coach Kevin Creasy said. “In the spring they contacted us, and they went through our schedule and pretty much found the game that they felt like would have the most highly touted recruits.”
Oakland has two other players who have committed to colleges in safety Kaleb Oliver (Mississippi State) and offensive lineman Elijah Dobbins (MTSU). Hillsboro also has a pair of prospects in defensive lineman Ben Hutch and wide receiver JaVonta Payton.
“You know you’re used to playing on local stations, but now you’re playing nationally, so it’s crazy,” said Hutch, a three-star prospect with offers from Louisville, Memphis, Nebraska and Texas A&M. “For me it’ll be my first time and for Hillsboro it will be our first time so we’re going to try to keep our composure.”
The matchup marks the fourth time in five years that two Tennessee teams have taken part in the GEICO ESPN High School Football Kickoff Series, but this is the first year that the Volunteer state will open the three-day national high school football showcase.
In 2014, Blackman and Oakland played on a Sunday morning. So did Beech and Station Camp in 2013.
But this is believed to be the first time a Metro Nashville team has played on the ESPN network.
“It’s a really great honor and a blessing to be able to put our product in front of everyone,” Metro Athletic Director Roosevelt Sanders said. “The coaches have been working hard, and the players have been working hard so to get that kind of exposure for one of your programs and your district is great.
“You get one opportunity to make an impression, and we want to make a good impression.”
Clayton is happy that the game time wasn’t changed.
“To me, playing at 1 or 2 in the afternoon is a health hazard, especially in Tennessee when it’s humid,” Clayton said. “We probably would have (played on Saturday or Sunday), but I like the night game much better.”
“It was always Friday night,” Creasy added. “They never said anything about changing, and that’s what we’re happiest about. That it’s Friday night, and we’re actually the first game — the kickoff game to their coverage — which is pretty neat.”
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Hillsboro (0-1) at Oakland (1-0)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Ray Hughes Stadium, Oakland High School
Announcing crew: Clay Matvick, Dusty Dvoracek
Last meeting: Oakland 36, Hillsboro 28 (2015)
Recent ESPN network games involving Tennessee teams
Aug. 24, 2014 (ESPN2)
Tennessee sophomore Jauan Jennings accounted for 170 total yards with a pair of rushing scores as Blackman opened the season with a 28-21 triumph over Oakland and future Vols teammate Jack Jones.
Aug. 25, 2013 (ESPN2)
Beech’s Jalen Hurd, now a junior at Tennessee, led the defending Class 5A champion Buccaneers to a thrilling 42-39 win over Station Camp and future Vols teammate Josh Malone.
Aug. 23, 2013 (ESPNU)
Ensworth’s D’Andre Ferby, now a sophomore at Western Kentucky, ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns to help lead the three-time defending Division II-AA champion Tigers to a 27-26 upset of the nation’s second-ranked team, Trinity (Ky.).
Oct. 19, 2012 (ESPNU)
Two-time Mr. Football Back of the Year Corn Elder, now a senior at Miami, ran for 296 of the team’s 358 total yards as Ensworth coasted to comfortable win over Jalen Ramsey and rival Brentwood Academy.
Aug. 26, 2012 (ESPN2)
Maryville scored 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points to capture a 42-24 win over fellow East Tennessee power Alcoa and stretch its win streak to 31 games.