After a long but prosperous offseason, the Gators are ready to play.
The Gatewood football squad will open the 2018 season by hosting its biggest rival, John Milledge Academy, on Friday, Aug. 24. The visiting Trojans enter the Swamp seeking to avenge their first loss of the season in 2017 when the Gators thrashed JMA on the road, 34-17, to win the region championship.
“I can think of no one else I would rather play,” Gatewood head coach Jeff Ratliff said about starting the season against the Trojans. “As with any game with John Milledge, I expect that the game will be a good one and the crowd to be huge.”
The visiting Trojans are in a similar situation to the Gators this season. JMA had a large graduating class depart from the team after last season. However, JMA will still be returning several key players and will have strong leadership at the helm to make up for the players it had to replace.
JMA has been a well-coached team over the past few seasons under head coach J.T. Wall. A former fullback for the Georgia Bulldogs who had a brief stint in the NFL after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Wall has brought much success to the Trojans, including a state championship in 2016 over the Gators, which has further stoked the rivalry’s flames.
A seasoned coach himself, Ratliff will also be working with many new Gators this season. Gatewood recently traveled to Milledgeville to scrimmage against Georgia Military College Prep where several new Gators showcased their abilities, including a long touchdown run by the Gators’ new quarterback Luke Haley.
The Gators will hit the field from the time school lets out until 5:30 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. for full-pads practices. Thursday will be a day spent for special teams practices as well as final walkthroughs in order to prepare for the big game on Friday.
“We must have a great week of preparation and be ready to play come Friday night,” Ratliff said. “Focus is key this week.
With a rivalry, it is easy to get caught up in all the hype.
While that is what makes a rivalry game special, we must stay focused on the goal.
We have a great opportunity to get better against a quality opponent. That being said, it should be a lot of fun.”
Gatewood has been riding high on two great seasons in 2016 and 2017.
The Gators had a breakout season two years ago that led them to the fateful state championship game with the Trojans, and had an undefeated regular season and strong playoff run in 2017 before falling to Trinity-Sharpsburg in the semifinal round.
With a new team and a new season ahead of them, the Gators seek to work toward keeping their high-level play the standard for future seasons and eventually bring home the state championship that has eluded them for several seasons.
The highly-anticipated rivalry matchup is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.