Heather Jenkins is in a difficult spot this week.
She teaches high school math at Buford, and her husband Clint is the head football coach at Dacula, giving her numerous friends on both sides of Tom Riden Stadium when the two schools battle Friday for the Region 8-AAAAAA championship. She even co-taught at one point with Buford head coach Bryant Appling.
"It’s tough on her because her students are some of the (Buford) players," Clint Jenkins said. "She said it’s a tough week because she knows players on both sides and coaches on both sides. Hopefully she pulls for me, though."
Friday's game was a topic of conversation very early this week for Jenkins' wife.
"They already came to her (Tuesday) and asked if Kaleb (Edwards) was going to play," Clint Jenkins said. "They said, 'Come on, we know Kaleb's going to play.'"
The status of Edwards, a Georgia Tech recruit and the reigning Daily Post Offensive Player of the Year, looms large over Friday's game. He has been out with an injury — and is questionable for Friday — leaving a void at his many positions on offense from receiver to wildcat quarterback, not to mention his play on defense.
It likely would have helped last Friday when the Falcons (6-2, 5-0 region) won their sixth straight by overcoming a deficit and staving off Central Gwinnett's upset bid. Kyle Efford took up the slack on both sides of the ball, rushing 26 times for 244 yards for and two touchdowns, and contributing three tackles for losses, a sack and an interception on defense.
"Central came out and played well, and it just felt like mentally we’re going to have to be in a lot better place," Clint Jenkins said. "Some of that with us started at practice. We didn't have our best week of practice and it showed on Friday night. We can show them you've got to stay focused all the time. And our kids will. They've bounced back.
"They were disappointed Friday night. But I was proud we were able to get the win. We did what we had to do in the second half to win the game."
Buford (7-1, 5-0) hasn't experienced any scares in its first season in 8-AAAAAA after moving up a classification. Aside from a close first half with Lanier, which ended as a 38-10 win, the Wolves routed Central (51-0), Habersham Central (44-7), Shiloh (44-0) and Winder-Barrow (45-7).
They have won plenty of region titles — 16 since 2001 — but missed out on an 8-AAAAA crown last year because of an upset loss to Clarke Central in the regular-season finale. Despite making their road through the brackets more challenging, they still won last year's AAAAA state title.
"I wouldn’t trade that whole path (last year) for the world, but that doesn't mean we want it to be our path this year," Appling said. "We don’t want to drop that ball this year."
To win this year's title, it will require taking it from the program that has ruled 8-AAAAAA. Dacula is the four-time defending champion in the region, on a 25-game winning streak in region play and coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances in AAAAAA.
Appling and Jenkins know each other well — and have taken similar coaching paths. Both were longtime defensive coordinators who were promoted and have become highly successful head coaches.
"I’ve known Coach Jenkins and his staff a long time," Appling said. "I have a ton of respect for them. They're a well-coached team. On both sides of the ball, they're physical up front. They kind of do a lot of the same things we do. It should be a good matchup of strength on strength, the same type of scheme on the same type of scheme."