CUMBERLAND -- Coaches and players of the teams participating in the second and third days of the Corky Kell Classic gathered Wednesday for a luncheon at the Atlanta Marriott Northwest at Galleria.
Four Cobb County teams -- Marietta, Kell, Walton and McEachern -- will participate in the annual event, which gathers some of the top programs in the state for nine games between Thursday and Saturday. Marietta will play Thursday at Rome’s Barron Stadium, while the other three will wait until Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It’s an honor to play in the event,” Walton coach Daniel Brunner said. “I think it’s one of the biggest stages in the nation throughout the whole year for high school football. We’re fortunate to be a part of it. You’re always going to get great competition, always going to see great coaches, teams that do things the right way.”
Kell will face Mays to kick off Saturday's action at 9 a.m., followed by Walton-Norcross at 11:45 a.m. McEachern will play Brookwood at 5:30 p.m., in the third game of the day.
Brookwood and McEachern are considered to be the founding programs of the Classic, carried out by their former longtime coaches and athletic directors, Dave Hunter and Jimmy Dorsey. They followed the vision of the the event's namesake and creator, former Wheeler coach Carlton “Corky” Kell.
It will be a return trip to the Classic for first-year McEachern coach Franklin Stephens, but his first time participating as the leader of a program. He previously took part as an assistant coach more than a decade ago and is now looking forward to the opposition and environment the Classic and Mercedes-Benz Stadium will offer his new team.
“Getting an opportunity to take a team in as a head coach, a team like McEachern, which I just found out today that it’s one of the two programs that have played in this thing ever since the beginning, that’s kind of special,” Stephens said. “I’m just excited to be able to take this group of kids into that environment that you don’t get a chance in high school to play in often. They’re getting an opportunity to live out their dreams.”
With the opportunity to play in the home of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons also comes potential distraction and intimidation. According to Kell senior linebacker Branson Hall, his coach, Brett Sloan, has been making it clear to the team at every opportunity that, once they take the field, it is just another football game.
“Coach Sloan and the coaching staff, they do a good job of honing it down,” Hall said. “Just making sure we know that it’s not too big, making sure football is first and all the festivities come second.”
Things will be made easier on Kell in this regard, which has opened the season with the Classic every year since 2010. However, not only will the Longhorns have to deal with the pomp surrounding the Classic and the venue, but the Longhorns also have an added challenge in their 9 a.m. kickoff time.
“It’s not easy at all,” Hall said, “but we get ready three Saturdays before. At 8 a.m. -- 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. -- we scrimmage, so we’re ready to play at 9. We don’t make any excuses out of it. We’ll just go in and do it.”
Wednesday's luncheon provided coaches with an opportunity to meet with other heads of the state’s top football programs without the pressure of game day. Instead of planning out how to take down one another on the field, Wednesday offered an opportunity for some more light-hearted discussion.
“It’s great seeing all these guys and catching up, seeing how they’re doing, seeing how the week's been for them,” Walton coach Daniel Brunner said. “Sharing those ideas has been good.”
Sloan saw the luncheon as a meeting of some of the best high school football coaching talent in the country. He is looking forward to competing against them and leading the school that bears Corky Kell’s name into the prestigious Classic.
“Just the quality of teams and coaches we compete against is a great honor,” Sloan said. “These are some of the elite high school coaches and programs in the country. It’s our honor to be able to play in it. It’s our honor to be able to carry Corky Kell’s name and to represent him.”