While a few of the games in the GEICO ESPN Kickoff make sense from a competitive standpoint, some are just about showcasing top-level recruits.
That’s why, on Saturday, Heard County (Franklin, Ga.), a Class AA team, will drive two hours north to Cartersville, Ga., for a game with Saraland (Ala.), a 6A school that will be traveling six hours instead of the four if the game had been played in Franklin. While the teams may differ in size, they both have stellar quarterbacks. Heard County’s Emory Jones is headed to Ohio State and Saraland’s Jack West has committed to Stanford.
The reason the game, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU, is being played in Cartersville is it is part of a doubleheader, allowing ESPN networks to use one crew instead of two to televise the games. The later game also features two top quarterback recruits in Cartersville’s Trevor Lawrence, a Clemson commit, and Bartram Trail (Jacksonville, Fla.) quarterback Joey Gatewood, who has committed to Auburn. The teams in the nightcap (7:30 p.m., ESPN2) probably are more evenly matched as Cartersville is a two-time AAAA state champion and Bartram Trail is ranked No. 4 in the state in 7A.
So why would a team from a town with one traffic signal play a much larger school two hours away? For Heard County, the chance to be on TV and the resultant exposure and opportunity trumps any inconveniences.
“It’s good for those kids who might have a shot at the next level, but it’s great for that kid who is just going to be a good high school football player and will not play in college,” Heard County coach Tim Barron said said. “What an opportunity for the whole team and the whole community. The kids are excited.”
The challenge is to play a game for the chance to be on TV yet get his players to focus on the game itself, not the cameras around them.
“We’ve treated it no differently than a regular ball game,” Barron said. “We haven’t talked about the cameras. The more attention we give to it, the more it would be a distraction. I want to focus on the normal process throughout the week.”
One advantage Heard County has is it at least has a varsity game under its belt. Jones threw for two touchdowns and ran for a touchdown in a 42-15 defeat of South Atlanta (Atlanta) last Friday. This will be Saraland’s opener.
“That’s a Catch-22 situation,” Barron said. “We have had two scrimmages, plus a regular-season game while (Saraland) has had all this time to just focus on us and prepare for us.”
Many of the Heard County players play both ways. That means that Jones won’t likely throw 40 times a game to his receivers because that would tire them out from their defensive back duties.
“Just watching (Saraland) on film, they have way more depth,” Barron said. “Obviously, we’re concerned about fatigue. The makeup of their players is very similar to ours, except whatever we have one of, they have two of.”