For the Glenwood Gators, a large senior class and the opportunity to play in the fourth annual SECIS Kickoff Classic was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“It’s a great opportunity for those kids to get exposure, playing on a big field to kick off the season,” Glenwood coach Jason Gibson said. “I think it’s a great recruiting tool. It gets the Glenwood name out there, hopefully can showcase our school against some of the better teams in the area. For the kids, it’ll be fun to play on the big stage.”
The two-day event at Cramton Bowl kicks off the 2019 football season.
Formed in January, 2016, the Southeastern Commission of Independent Schools is an academic and athletic collaboration of the Alabama Independent School Association, the Georgia Independent School Association, the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools and the South Carolina Independent School Association. SECIS serves its member state associations by providing leadership management for interscholastic activities that promote academic achievement, good sportsmanship, and regional cooperation.
This year, the South Carolina Independent School Association asked for volunteers and found none, so the Mississippi association added a team and the event deleted a game, opting to avoid the heat of the day on Friday.
And while there are only 10 teams with no representation from South Carolina, the event has added its first Louisiana team. Bowling Green School of Franklinton, La., located just south of the Mississippi state line and west of Bogalusa, is a MAIS member.
The Friday lineup includes Heritage Academy vs. Heritage School at 4 p.m. and Madison-Ridgeland Academy vs. Bessemer Academy at 7 p.m.
Heritage Academy of Columbus, Miss., reached the MAIS Class AAA semifinals last year with an offense that scored 35 or more points in 10 games. Quarterback Carter Putt, who threw for 2,381 yards and 31 touchdowns, and tailback K.J. Smith, who rushed for 1,675 yards and 21 touchdowns, are among the returners on a team that went 10-3 in 2018, including a 42-41 loss to perennial power Lamar School.
The Patriots will face another Heritage, the Heritage School Hawks of Newnan, Ga. The Hawks were 9-3 a year ago, beating Brookwood and losing to Valwood during the regular season before losing to Frederica Academy 53-7 in the first round of the state playoffs.
All three of the Hawks’ opponents had played in the SECIS Kickoff Classic in its first three years.
Bessemer Academy has been in the Kickoff Classic in each of the previous three years but head coach Josh Wright is facing another rebuilding year after the Rebels caught fire late and went 9-4 in reaching the AAA title game last year. Wright’s team could challenge for another title this year but face a daunting task on Friday against MRA.
Madison-Ridgeland Academy reached the AAAA-DI finals last year before losing 33-27 to Jackson Prep. MRA (12-1 last season) has played in the state finals in four of the last five seasons (Jackson Prep defeated MRA in the semifinals once) and return senior quarterback Philip Short and senior receiver Joe Perkins.
The Patriots played in the inaugural SECIS Kickoff Classic in 2016, defeating Valwood School 34-2.
The Saturday slate of games includes Tuscaloosa Academy vs. Lamar School at 1 p.m., Bowling Green School vs. Gateway Gateway School at 4 p.m. and Brookwood School vs. Glenwood School at 7 p.m.
Lamar School of Meridian, Miss., has played in all three of the previous SECIS events, losing to Bessemer in 2016, beating Bessemer in 2017 and defeating Laurence Manning Academy in 2018. The three-time defending Class AAAA-DII state champs were 10-3 last year.
Tuscaloosa Academy went 6-4 a year ago, losing to eventual AAA state champion Monroe, and is under the direction of first-year coach John Copeland. The former Alabama defensive end has been an assistant at the school for several years and assumed his first head coaching position when Robert Johnson went to Lee-Scott.
Bowling Green lost its quarterback and running backs from last season, along with the unexpected departure of head coach Gary Nunez late this summer. Offensive coordinator Riley Boudreaux takes over the Buccaneers, which count its top two receivers, Rashaan Duke and Cade Knight, along its returning starters.
The Buccaneers’ opponent, Gatewood School of Eatonton, Ga., approximately 80 miles southeast of Atlanta, is the defending GISA AA state champions and return many of the Gators’ top players from 2018, including junior quarterback Luke Haley, senior James Williamson and junior Bryce Johnson.
The event’s final matchup features Brookwood, which has averaged 34 points in each of its previous three appearances, against the Gators, which went 5-7 last year before losing to Bessemer in the AAA semifinals.
“I don’t know (much about Brookwood), just as much as anybody can see from film,” Gibson said. “I’ve been trying to get into that game for years, just to give Glenwood exposure and the kids exposure, so we’re just thankful they gave us the opportunity to come down and play.”
Saturday’s finale should pit an explosive Brookwood offense against a standout Glenwood defense led by end Allandis Boyd and linebackers Justin Jackson, Skyler Palumbo and BJ Snellgrove.
“Those guys fly around and have been together for a while,” Gibson said. “The senior class (of 17) is pretty tight. We’re hoping it’s the start of something.”
FOURTH SECIS KICKOFF CLASSIC
4 p.m. – Heritage School (Newnan, Ga.) vs. Heritage Academy (Columbus, Miss.)
7 p.m. – Madison-Ridgeland Academy vs. Bessemer Academy
1 p.m. – Tuscaloosa Academy vs. Lamar School (Meridian, Miss.)
4 p.m. – Bowling Green School (Franklinton, La.) vs. Gateway School (Eatonton, Ga.)
7 p.m. – Brookwood School (Thomasville, Ga.) vs. Glenwood School