Valdosta and Camden County.
They are two of the most respected high school football programs in South Georgia. They both won region championships in 2011. They’re both called the Wildcats, with matching paws on their helmets (albeit in different colors). Both programs have coaches who know how to win, and players who know how to play.
Tonight, they’ll meet on the gridiron.
Camden County (4-0) will make the two-hour trek from the Atlantic coast to Winnersville tonight to take on Valdosta (3-1). The game will start at 8 p.m. at Cleveland Field at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. It will be the Region 1-6A opener for both teams.
Last year, Valdosta was the Region 1-5A champion and Camden was the Region 3-5A champion. After the GHSA expanded to six classifications and realigned the regions, Camden moved over to Region 1.
On paper, Camden looks very impressive. It is currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class 6A. The team is also ranked ninth in the USA Today’s national poll. Four Camden players have already verbally committed to Southeastern Conference schools. Camden has won its first four games by an average of 44.75 points.
“We understand who they are. They’ve got a really good football team. They really do,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said. “A very talented football team.”
Camden quarterback Brice Ramsey is a four-star prospect who is rated the No. 7 quarterback in the nation by scout.com. The 6-foot-3, 197-pound Ramsey has verbally committed to Georgia, and might enroll there in January. Camden’s wing-T offense is primarily a running offense, but the team will line up in the shotgun occasionally and give Ramsey opportunities to throw it.
“He’s got the stature and the big arm and he’s athletic enough. He’s a good player,” Gillespie said. “He’s a really good punter and kicker as well. (His special teams skills) may be as impressive as anything.”
Teammate J.J. Green will be joining Ramsey in Athens. Green, who runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, is a dangerous wingback, cornerback and kick returner for Camden. Rivals.com rates him the No. 48 cornerback in the country. He has rushed for 228 yards and three touchdowns, and averages 10.9 yards per carry. He has caught four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. And on defense, he has not allowed a catch in one-on-one coverage.
“Green (has good) speed. Green has good ball skills, and is just an all-around great athlete,” Gillespie said.
J.P. Vonashek, a 6-foot-6, 270-pound three-star tackle who has verbally committed to South Carolina, will be blocking for Ramsey and Green. Jarrad Davis, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound three-star linebacker, is bound for Auburn. Davis is the No. 31 outside linebacker in the nation, while Vonashek is the No. 41 tackle (according to scout.com and rivals.com, respectively). Fellow linebacker Rafael Hardee could also be a Division I player.
“They’ve got (four) SEC commits,” Gillespie said. “There’s not many teams that can say that.”
“Their nose (guard) is a really good football player as well. The big back that plays fullback for them is a really good player,” Valdosta’s coach added. “They’ve got multiple weapons. It’s not just those five (Division I prospects); they’ve got other guys in there, too. ... They’ve got plenty of skill.”
Camden has been using a 3-3-5 base defense for around 10 years, and it has been a very effective defense for the Wildcats. The 3-3-5 has enabled Camden to line up in anything from an eight-man front to a nickel defense with the same 11 players on the field.
Camden is averaging 49.5 points per game, and is giving up just 4.75. The team has outscored its opponents 198-19 so far this season.
Head coach Jeff Herron has a 147-16 record in 13 seasons at Camden, and his team departed Region 3-5A with an 86-game region winning streak.
The Valdosta coaching staff has spent many hours trying to figure out a way to beat the top-ranked team in the state. They have studied tapes of nearly every Camden game since the 2010 playoffs, so they know a lot about their opponent.
“I feel like we’ve got a good game plan. I feel like we’ve got a good feel for who they are and what they do,” Gillespie said. “It’s just a matter of executing, and going out and playing.”
Valdosta and Camden played each other eight times between 2001-05 (five preseason scrimmages and three playoff games), but the teams have not played since then. Gillespie and Herron, two coaches with a combined six state championships, have never faced each other.
In 2003, Camden beat Valdosta 21-7 in the Class 5A state championship game at old Cleveland Field. The teams also competed in the last GHSA football game ever decided by penetration (Camden won 15-14 in 2002).
Valdosta’s offense is led by quarterback Shelby Wilkes (535 yards passing, four touchdowns, two interceptions) and running backs Malcolm Joseph (398 yards, seven touchdowns rushing; 158 yards, one touchdown receiving) and Nelson Herring (391 yards rushing, four touchdowns; five catches, 61 yards, two touchdowns receiving). Wide receiver Alex Cason has caught six passes for 117 yards.
The Valdosta Wildcats are averaging 32 points per game, and giving up an average of 10.5 points per game.
What does Gillespie feel his team must do to win tonight?
“What we have to do is we have to get out and play a really good football game, without mistakes,” he said. “We can’t beat ourselves. We’ve got to make them make the plays. We need to control the football game offensively, which I think we’re totally capable of doing.”
No. 1 Camden County comes to Valdosta tonight
Valdosta and Camden County.
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Others will have to wait and see what continues to take shape come Friday when teams can begin fall practice, and especially Aug. 1 when teams can suit up in pads for the first time, such as can Valdosta win its record 24th state title, or can Lowndes capture its fourth state championship under Randy McPherson, or can Valwood and coach Ashley Henderson play in its third straight GISA state championship game?
As we start to find out the answers to those questions in just a few short weeks — the regular season is just 31 days away — there should be a few more milestones for area coaches to mark 2014 right along with the Generals getting back on the gridiron.
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