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Area Football Snapshot: Private School Powerhouses Extend Perfect Starts

On each team’s homecoming night, the Lions and the Fighting Irish both turned in blowout wins Friday, with Aquinas blitzing Tattnall Square 47-7, and Augusta Christian thumping Pinewood Prep 45-6.

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Zack Blackwell – Augusta Christian
 

On each team’s homecoming night, the Lions and the Fighting Irish both turned in blowout wins Friday, with Aquinas blitzing Tattnall Square 47-7, and Augusta Christian thumping Pinewood Prep 45-6. Both teams reached 6-0 for the season, and both have compiled an impressive margin of victory, with Augusta Christian topping opponents by an average of 37 points, and Aquinas by 26.

Aquinas benefitted from a 392 yard and 6 touchdown rushing effort, continuing a dominant ground game that has yielded an average of 312 yards per game this season. Three players who are all averaging greater than 100 yards rushing per game this season led the way again Friday:

RJ Edwards (170 yards and 2 touchdowns)

Darius Stone (85 yards and 3 touchdowns)

James Schlegel (115 yards and 1 touchdown)

James Schlegel – Aquinas

Augusta Christian’s stat sheet was stuffed by what is quickly becoming a familiar list of standout Lion names:

Zack Blackwell (163 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception)

Jeb Bradford (17-26 passing for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns; 1 rushing TD)

Jacob Walker (7 receptions for 101 yards and 1 touchdown; 97 yard kickoff return for a TD; 227 all purpose yards)

Terrence Vandiver (1 interception; 4 receptions for 32 yards)

Andrew Thompson jars the ball loose form a receiver for Augusta Christian Friday.

While they compete in completely different leagues, both of these proud programs have earned the distinction of winning a state championship this decade. But the path since Augusta Christian’s crowning moment in 2012, when the Lions captured a South Carolina Independent Schools Association title, until now couldn’t be more different than the one Aquinas has followed since winning a Georgia High School Association championship in 2013. Since its championship run, Aquinas has compiled a winning record every year and won 75% of its games. But Augusta Christian only just this past Friday assured itself that 2020 will be its first winning season since being crowned in 2012.

Behind Augusta Christian’s Resurgence

In his attempt to “#RestoreTheRoar” in the heart of his Lions, first year coach Andrew Stickel, who coached AC’s middle school team the prior six seasons, couldn’t be more pleased with the response he and his staff have gotten from the players:

“The kids have completely bought in and trust the coaching staff,” Stickel said in an interview conducted over direct message Sunday. “They are flying around, playing fast, and playing for each other. That has been since noticeable since we were allowed to be back together, starting in June.”

Stickel’s first task as the new head coach was to navigate an off season full of coronavirus fueled uncertainty about whether or not a football season would even be played.

“There was so much unknown through the the Spring and early Summer. So many questions. During that time, we continued to communicate as much as possible.” The coach added, “Clear communication provides clear vision.”

But Stickel’s vision was never limited only to getting the Lions safely onto the field of play. He wants badly for the school to experience again what it’s like to have an area and statewide powerhouse, and he credits a strong group of veteran players and their families for the program’s apparent turnaround:

For the past 7 years, we have been a 3 win football team. 20 wins in the last 7 years. One playoff appearance. Being at the school for the last 6 years as the middle school coach, I was able to closely watch what our varsity program was doing – Spring football, weight room, practices, mindset, etc.

So I shared my vision with these players and their parents that what we have been doing and where we have been gets us the bare minimum results, while other programs in our league and our area continue to run right past us. So we needed to change EVERYTHING.

Fortunately, I have been in this place before when I took over the middle school program. Being the doormat of the league, and understanding that we needed to create a new standard, a new normal, to raise our expectations, our work ethic, and our commitment level on and off the field. The roster I inherited… was heavy with upperclassman who were willing to lead the way. They just wanted to be pointed in the right direction, and given a plan of how to get there.

Augusta Christian’s players are benefitting from their willingness to follow Coach Stickel’s plan, and it will be exciting to see how close to the program’s former glory this new look Lions squad gets in this unique, and, so far for Augusta Christian and Aquinas at least, perfect season.

Highlights from Augusta Christian’s 45-6 win over Pinewood Prep:

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[Livestream] Grovetown vs Evans in Region Battle for Playoff Position

Evans hosts Grovetown and looks to avenge their buzzer beater loss to the Warriors on January 22nd.

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“Sophomore Malik Ferguson picked up a loose ball in the middle of the paint with one second remaining, and right before the fourth quarter buzzer sounded, he released a shot that found its mark to give Grovetown 61-60 win over Evans Friday, a result that threw the top spot in the class 6A, region 5 standings into a three way tie between Grovetown, Evans and Heritage to mark the beginning of the stretch run for the league’s regular season championship. Ferguson’s shot came at the end of a full court dash by Grovetown after head coach Darren Douglas was able to draw up a play during a timeout that was meant to result in a bucket in only six seconds. The play was designed for senior Zach Bell, who eventually fumbled the ball after spinning between defenders at the end of a drive that began near half court after he gathered the ball from freshman Derrion Reid.”

That was Chad Cook’s rundown of the instant classic that these two teams played two weeks ago. That win by Grovetown sets up a must-win scenario for Evans as they look to maintain their footing in the race for a region championship.

Be sure to get your ? ready early because if tonight’s game is as exciting as the last one, you just might forget those jokers altogether!

Streams will be posted here. Tip-off times are as follows:
Girls – 6:30 PM
Boys – 8:00 PM

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Culture

Former Basketball Stars Lead the Way in Business, Community Service, and Artistic Pursuits

Harold Doby, Reggie Middleton and Roman Hill have turned a brand into a business, a lifestyle and a mental framework for impacting their community.

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Reggie Middleton (left) and Harold Doby (right)

On January 4th, the day after Harold Doby’s “Books and Life Lessons” (B.A.L.L.) charitable organization conducted a coat drive to help keep warm some of the most vulnerable people in the downtown area, I spoke with Doby and Reggie Middleton, two lifelong friends and former college and high school basketball stars, at Middleton’s “Came From Nxthing Designer Apparel” shop at 120 James Brown Boulevard. Our interview (below) covered the coat drive, Reggie’s entrepreneurial journey, and the meaning behind the “Came From Nxthing” brand, which originated from the music of Roman Hill, our third interviewee. Hill’s friendship with Doby and Middleton helped sprout a “movement” that has provided a framework for the three former athletes to impact the world through acts of community service, business, art, entrepreneurship and charity.

The interview provided a great chance for me to get reacquainted with two men I’ve watched grow from being boys who excelled in a game, to leaders of their families and their community. I bet others who watched them star at Glenn Hills and Winthrop (Middleton), and at Laney and Augusta University (Doby), will also gain satisfaction from hearing about their continued personal development. For example, Reggie explained how he took advantage of his basketball talent to earn a job playing professional basketball in London. Then he used his experience there to hatch a business idea to bring high-quality fashion for an affordable price to people in his hometown.

Reggie Middleton scored 1,186 points for Winthrop.

Harold’s concern for people who are most in need, whether it be the men and women he personally distributed the coats to earlier this month, or the students in his school he recalled giving clothes and shoes to when he was in grade school, is the original reason for my getting back into contact with the two men I once coached and taught when they were middle schoolers.

Harold Doby distributing coats in downtown Augusta on January 4.

I’m grateful we reconnected because they are a shining example of what can be greatest about sports and the community that builds around such a life journey: strong, caring relationships developed through shared experiences, encounters with adversity, and moments of triumph, as well as failures and hardships. Reggie’s story about how he has been able to take the difficult circumstances of the pandemic and nonetheless thrive in business with his “back against the wall” by drawing on his experiences as a basketball player growing up reinforces something I’ve always believed, that youth sports is great practice for real life. 

Harold Doby and Reggie Middleton, as well as Roman Hill, whom Doby first met as his rapping Augusta University basketball teammate, are winning the game of real life every bit as much as they did when they mastered the game of basketball as younger men.

Look out for news of the next Drive from B.A.L.L. Visit the Came From Nxthing Designer Apparel Facebook page to see Reggie’s merchandise, shop with him online or find store information:

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