Archer quarterback Carter Peevy attempts a pass during last season’s playoff game with Parkview. The senior and his Tiger teammates will face Tucker, followed by Buford meeting Milton, in the Corky Kell Classic on Friday in the first football games played at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville.

There always plenty of excitement for any high school football team surrounding a season opener, especially when it’s on a big stage like the Corky Kell Classic.

But for Archer and Buford, the excitement is ramped up a little further by the venue they will play in when the Tigers take on Tucker and the Wolves meet Milton in Friday’s action of the 2019 edition of the annual showcase.

The Gwinnett pair will stay inside the county and play in the first football games played at Coolray Field, home of the Gwinnett Stripers, while the International League South Division leaders are on a road trip.

“First of all, we’re really excited about playing at Coolray (Field). I think that’s really a neat venue to host a football game,” said Archer head coach Andy Dyer, whose Tigers (ranked No. 5 in the Georgia Sports Writers Association’s preseason Class AAAAAAA state poll) will kick off against Tucker in Friday’s opener at 5:30 p.m. 'It’ll be the first game that’s ever been played there, so that’s pretty cool. As far as the football end, the first game is always an adventure. You’ve got a new crew that you’re putting out there, so you’re anxious as a coach to see how they’re going to perform and how they’re going to react. It just kind of gives you a starting point from what you need to correct and what you need to do.”

While playing in a larger venue than the average high school football stadium, as well as one regularly used by a professional sports organization, is enough to raise the players enthusiasm, the idea of playing a game in a pro baseball facility has filled coaches from both schools with a bit of nostalgia.

“I’ve told everybody it’s kind of different playing on a baseball field,” said Buford’s Bryant Appling, whose Wolves (No. 2 in the GSWA’s Class AAAAA preseason rankings), kick off with defending Class AAAAAAA state champion Milton in the 8:30 game in his debut as the team’s head coach. “Not only have none of the kids ever played on one, they’ve never seen (a game played on) one. When I grew up, there was always Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (which was shared by the Falcons and Braves) and Oakland (-Alameda Coliseum) and Candlestick (Park in San Francisco), where teams that shared a baseball field and football field. So (the coaches are) used to seeing a baseball diamond on a football field. A lot of the kids don’t understand that.”

Playing on a football field laid out on a the outline of a baseball diamond does create some adjustments that players will have to make that most of them have never faced before.

The biggest adjustment may be the fact that unlike when Coolray Field’s infield and part of the warning track were covered with temporary sod for Atlanta United 2 soccer games, the infield dirt will be uncovered for Friday’s game.

That could cause some issues in footing, particularly if any rain falls, which could turn the dirt into mud, and with little way to prepare for such a situation, it may cause all four teams participating to adjust on the fly.

“Not really, unless we can do some perimeter drills on the baseball field (at McQuaig Field during practice this week). I don’t think (Buford baseball) Coach (Stuart) Chester is having any of that,” Appling joked when asked about being able to prepare for playing at Coolray Field. “I believe the footing is going to be the same for (Milton), so whoever handles adversity better will get through that part better.”

Meanwhile, besides the adjustment to a new venue, all four teams will also have to think about taking the field for the first time that counts all season against a quality opponent.

And while Milton, which enters 2019 ranked No. 6 in AAAAAAA by the GSWA, will be missing several key members of last year’s state title team lost to graduation, Appling knows the Eagles will pose a formidable challenge to the Wolves, who will also feature some new faces from last year’s state quarterfinal team.

He is hoping to lead on several returning starters like offensive linemen Seth McLaughlin, Malone VanGorder and Jacob Smith, plus seven returning defensive starters like secondary members Jalen Huff, T. Lee and Danny Benitez to help rally the rest of the team into a cohesive unit.

“I have the utmost respect for (Milton) Coach (Adam) Clack and his staff,” Appling said. “They do a great job building that program to where it is … for the last four or five year now. He’s a great coach and they’ve got great kids.

“A lot of people are looking at them they way they’re looking at us. They lost a lot of guys (from last year). We lost a lot of guys. We both have a path to growing kids up probably faster than anybody would want to. But it’s football. You’ve got to do that every year. It’s going to be a tough game. They’re definitely one of the top teams in the state, … regardless of who they lost. It’s going to be a fun atmosphere and it’s going to be a fun game. We’re looking forward to competing with a great program.”

Meanwhile, Archer has even more returning starters from last year to lean on for its game against Tucker, including a quartet of senior offensive linemen in Derek Harden, Ivan Cruz, Ethan Lane and Israel Mukwiza.

But the most important might by quarterback Carter Peevy, who was not only Gwinnett’s leading passer from last year, but also brings poise and experience that Dyer says should prove handy against a defense that features a lot of different looks, like Tucker’s.

“Defensively, it looks like they’re going to play a lot of man coverage,” Dyer said of Tucker. “That’s traditionally what they do. They run a 3-5 and play a lot of man coverage, bring a lot of pressure in the box. So we’ve got to do a good job of getting off coverage and making plays in one-on-one coverage. That’s a big deal. Then, obviously, with the stunts and the blitzes and everything they like to do, we’ve got to be able to pick that up as an offensive line and the running back.

“Traditionally, they’ve always got a good football team. Coach (Bryan) Lamar is an awesome football coach and a great man. So I’m excited. I think it’s fun to play somebody you’ve never played before. This is my 24th year as a coach, (and) playing new people is fun. It’s a challenge and it’s what you want as a competitor. You want to play really good people.”


Buford Wolves (8-AAAAA)

Coach: Bryant Appling

2018 record: 10-3

Last week: Season opener

Milton Eagles (5-AAAAAAA)

Coach: Adam Clack

2018 record: 13-2

Last week: Season opener

When: Friday, 8:30 p.m.

Radio: Peachtree TV/92.9-FM

Last meeting: Milton won 6-0 in 1983

Location: Coolray Field, Lawrenceville


Archer Tigers (8-AAAAAAA)

Coach: Andy Dyer

2018 record: 11-3

Last week: Season opener

Tucker Tigers (4-AAAAAA)

Coach: Bryan Lamar

2018 record: 7-4

Last week: Season opener

When: Friday, 8:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Peachtree TV/92.9-FM

Last meeting: First meeting between the two schools

Location: Coolray Field, Lawrenceville

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Graduated from GSU in 1990. Have worked in sports journalism for the past 28 years, covering a variety of sports at the Gwinnett Daily News, AJC, Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser and Marietta Daily Journal before returning to Gwinnett at the Post in 2007.