MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Head coaches for the six teams participating in the seventh annual al.com Champions Challenge preseason high school football triple-header April 24-25 at Cramton Bowl addressed the state's media Wednesday at a press conference held at the AHSAA office.
While each one said their schools were excited to be a part of the 2012 al.com Champions Challenge, Central of Clay County head coach Steve Giddens went one step farther.
"We are proud to be opening up our program in the Champions Challenge and at Cramton Bowl," said Giddens, who compiled a 128-45 record in 14 seasons as Lineville's head football coach. Lineville and Clay County High Schools have consolidated to form Central of Clay County. The rich tradition of the two schools and the fierce rivalry that was once judged one of the top 10 prep football rivalries in the nation is now uniting into one.
"I think the best part of this is the unity that is developing in Clay County," Giddens said. "We had 3,000 to show up at an open house last Sunday at our new school. Unity is our theme right now. It is heartwarming to see."
Central, nicknamed the Volunteers, will face Beauregard (10-2) Aug. 25 at 5 p.m. The event opens Aug. 24 with a 7 p.m. contest between Muscle Shoals (11-2) and Spanish Fort (9-4). The final game, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25, pits McGill-Toolen (11-2) and Northridge (10-2).
Lineville finished 10-4 last season and reached the Class 2A state semifinals. Clay County was 12-2 and reached the 3A semifinals. Beauregard coach Smitty Grider, who led the 2011 Hornets to their first 10-win season in history, said he was glad to play in the Champions Challenge. However, he said when he learned the opponent would be Central of Clay County he had some reservations.
"I told my principal about it and he asked me if I had lost my mind," said Grider. "I thought that two plus three (referring to the classifications of Lineville and Clay County) equaled five, not four."
Central is classified as a Class 4A school in the program's inaugural season.
All joking aside, he said his team is eager to face the challenge.
"It is such an honor to play in a game like this," he said. "It is also an honor to be the first opponent against this new program. We are treating this like our season opener."
Muscle Shoals is coached by Scott Basden, Spanish Fort by Mark Freeman, Northridge by Michael Smith and McGill-Toolen by Bart Sessions. Sessions coached in the Champions Challenge twice as defensive coordinator for Prattville. All six coaches addressed the media Wednesday.