Chris Chambless and the West Point High School football team are eager to show the state of Florida they”re up for the challenge.
The Green Wave will be one of eight teams that will participate in The Gridiron Challenge, or what is being billed as a series of matchups pitting teams from Florida against teams from the rest of the United States.
West Point, the Mississippi High School Activities Association defending Class 5A champion, will kick off the event at 7:30 tonight against Mainland (Fla.) High, the No. 8 team in Class 6A, according to the Associated Press” preseason poll of Florida teams.
Three more games will be played Saturday at Municipal Stadium, the home of Bethune-Cookman University. Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central will take on Dallas (Texas) Skyline, Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Day will play Jeffersonville (Ga.) Twiggs County, and Cocoa (Fla.) High will take on Olive Branch.
The eight teams went a combined 95-14 in 2009.
West Point (1-0) is riding a 15-game winning streak thanks to its 39-14 victory against Shannon last week in the season opener. Late last week, the Green Wave canceled a game against Columbus slated for Sept. 3 that would have put them one over the state maximum of 11. With that out of the way, Chambless and his players are eager to see how they stack up to one of Florida”s top teams.
“We just hope we can play well and represent Mississippi and West Point,” Chambless said.
West Point traded game film from last season and from its spring game with Mainland, which went 9-3 and lost in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs last season. Class 6A is the highest classification in the state of Florida.
Mainland, which will play its season opener, has added Shelton Willis, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound quarterback from Warner Christian Academy. He rushed for more than 900 yards and threw for more than 1,000 last season.
The Buccaneers, who last won a state title in 2003 (Class 5A), will be without senior running back Marlin Lane, a Clemson University commitment. Lane is recovering from a knee injury. But Cortez Davis, a defensive back who was a Florida State commitment but he changed his mind to Clemson, could see time at running back as well as at his natural position, defensive back.
Chambless expects Mainland to be huge up front and to have plenty of depth at running back to fill in for Lane.
The games will be played on a new Field Turf that was installed on Larry Kelly Field earlier this month. The new turf allows the city of Daytona Beach to rent the stadium for an event with multiple football games without having too worry about damaging the field.
Event organizer Billy Fleming said he would like to bring the Gridiron Challenge back to Municipal Stadium next season. He also told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that he hopes to add a second four-game, eight-team event in September, as well as a Florida-Georgia All-Star Game.
Chambless said this is the first time the program has played a game outside of the state of Mississippi in 21 years. He said the team practiced at 5 a.m. Wednesday and had one of its best practices of the year before everyone left West Point in two buses at about 6 a.m. Thursday. They stopped just south of Montgomery, Ala., to stretch their legs, and planned a second stop to take a breaks later in the day.
Chambless anticipated the team would arrive in Daytona Beach at 8 p.m. Eastern time. He said the team would get plenty of rest Thursday night and this morning to get its legs back after the 11-plus hour ride.
“I think adrenaline should take over (Friday night),” Chambless said when asked how he thought his team would fare after making such a long tripe. “Maybe we will be a little leg weary, but we plan on getting plenty of rest tonight and tomorrow, and we”ll be pumping Gatorade, water, and fruit into them. I think we”ll be OK.”
Chambless said the two buses were pretty full thanks to extra cases of Gatorade and water and plenty of food members of the West Point High cafeteria cooked for the team to take with it. He said he has made long trips before with his family to destinations like New York City, Washington, D.C., Idaho, and California, but this one has included more responsibility.
“You just have to be organized to make sure you have supervision the whole time and that you”re working out a schedule with the coaches and that everyone knows where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there and that everyone is fed and is awake,” Chambless said.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.