GRANITEVILLE — For the past two years, bad weather has either washed out or threatened to cancel the Aiken County Jamboree. There should be no such issues this year, as the series of high school football exhibitions are scheduled to be played tonight at Midland Valley High School’s L.L. Willis Stadium.
The forecast calls for nighttime temperatures in the high 60s with zero percent chance of rain. That’s a far cry from the past two years, when lightning and heavy rains wrought havoc on the jamboree. It was scheduled to be held at South Aiken in 2012 but was canceled because of the threat of lightning. Last year, it returned to South Aiken’s Stomping Grounds and likely would’ve been called off because of day-long torrential rains if it hadn’t been for the previous cancellation.
The show went on and was a success. With a much better forecast, Mustangs head coach Rick Knight is looking forward to hosting the event again.
“I’m hoping for great weather and that a lot of people come out,” said Knight, who admitted a lot of work goes into having the jamboree on your home field. In spite of the labors that go with ensuring the turf is properly hydrated and painted for eight teams to trample it, Knight said it’s worth the work. “I’m excited.”
Another tough task for Knight was setting the matchups for the four quarters of action. With the eight Aiken County area high school football teams involved, there’s always pressure to avoid making a matchup between two teams that will play during the regular season – some in pivotal region contests.
To avoid that conflict, and to tweak the matchups from the 2013 jamboree, Knight decided to go with larger schools facing off against smaller counterparts. The three schools with smallest enrollments, who are in Class A, will play a team from Class AAAA and two from Class AAA. The other quarter pits another Class AAAA school playing a Class AA competitor. The matchups, from the first to fourth quarter in descending order, are:
• Ridge Spring-Monetta vs. South Aiken
• Williston-Elko vs. Aiken
• Silver Bluff vs. North Augusta
• Wagener-Salley vs. Midland Valley
Each quarter will be 18 minutes of game time, and the clock will stop in all traditional dead-ball scenarios – incomplete pass, run out of bounds, penalties, etc. In almost every respect, it will be treated like a regular-season game, with the exception of no kickoffs. Instead, the teams will begin possessions on the 30-yard line in kickoff situations.
Participating in the jamboree is a benefit for the teams. It gets the players better acclimated to the regular season and is a big help for coaches. They have a greater sample to evaluate players, scout opponents and determine if their gameplans are effective. It also helps coaches and players adjust to traditional game-day schedules. They learn where to be during the day, when to be there and all other last-minute plans to get ready for the game.
It’s the last warmup for the regular season, which will start on Aug. 22 for four of the teams involved tonight – the rest kicking off their 2014 campaigns on Aug. 29. It’s a chance to show continued improvement and continuity from the start of practices to scrimmages. It’s also a showcase for the teams – who get to perform in front of a crowd and under the lights.
“Everybody gets to show off,” Knight said. “The kids are excited its at our place. We don’t have to get on a bus, and that’s always good.”
Knight pointed out another benefit of the jamboree – the money it raises. While the teams involved will split the gate, as the host Midland Valley will get to reap the benefit of sales made at concession stands.
“It creates an opportunity for us financially,” Knight said. “It pumps up the booster club and helps the school.”
All of the coaches and players are looking forward to a good turnout, and with admission only costing $6, it’s a very reasonable price to see some of the best players in the area and all of the Palmetto State.
The first quarter will feature an interesting matchup, to see how RS-M’s new starting quarterback Bra’Quon Preston fares against South Aiken’s pass rush, led by All-Aiken Standard defensive end Rasool Clemons. The second quarter will feature two teams in transition, as first-year head coach Derek Youngblood will lead Williston-Elko against Aiken, which is in the second season of Brian Neal’s tenure as top boss. It will be interesting to see how much the coaches reveal of their offenses, especially since they won’t go head-to-head again.
The third quarter pits Silver Bluff and head coach Al Lown, in his 22nd year, going against North Augusta and its first-year head coach Brian Thomas. Over the past decade, these programs have been two of the area’s very best but both feature lots of new starters. How they fare tonight could offer a glimpse into what the season could hold for the powers.
The fourth quarter will see the host team, Midland Valley, and it’s dynamic array of skill players go against a young Wagener-Salley team that could try and make a statement. The Mustangs will feature electrifying quarterback Daniel Carr and the power running of his cousin Dré Carr going against the War Eagles, led by the athletic Ke’aunri Holmes.
Tonight’s result won’t count but could give one of these teams the taste of success they need to start strong on a potential postseason march.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 15 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Aiken County Jamboree
WHERE: L.L. Willis Stadium at Midland Valley High School
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
• First Quarter
Ridge Spring-Monetta vs. South Aiken
• Second Quarter
Williston-Elko vs. Aiken
• Third Quarter
Silver Bluff vs. North Augusta
• Fourth Quarter
Midland Valley vs. Wagener-Salley
Staff Photo by Scott Rodgers Chaz Mealer hauls in a catch during a drill at the first North Augusta High School football practice on Friday morning.×
Staff Photo by Eric Russell Terrence Smith delivers a stiff arm to a Williston-Elko defender during a scrimmage as Ridge Spring-Monetta coaches look on.×
Staff photo by Noah Feit Bowen Smith throws the ball during a recent practice in preparation for his role as South Aiken's starting quarterback this season.×
Staff Photo by Eric Russell Brycen Carolina catches a pass during Aiken High's opening practice on Friday.×
Staff photo by Noah Feit Midland Valley teammates and cousins Daniel, left, and Dre Carr share a light moment in between drills on the first day of high school football practice.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman Wagener-Salley's Tre Davis (24) eludes the defense of Cameron Shiffner (2) at practice.×
Staff Photo by Eric Russell Brandon Hill drops back to pass under watch from Silver Bluff head coach Al Lown during the Bulldogs' first practice.×