If you want some insight on high-school football rivalries in Columbia County, just talk to Cheng Ho.
The junior tailback on the Evans football team knows more about the subject than most, because he attended Lakeside during his freshman year.
"Really, just about every school in Columbia County doesn't like each other a lot," Ho said. "When I was at Lakeside, I didn't like Evans that much. Now I'm here, and I don't like any of the other schools in Columbia County."
When pressed, Ho can single out the team he really loves to hate.
"Everybody gets pumped up to play Greenbrier," Ho said. "Everybody hates Greenbrier. Maybe its because I haven't beaten Greenbrier since middle school. Everybody is looking forward to it this year. We all want to beat Greenbrier so bad."
Evans' Cheng Ho is tackled by former Lakeside teammates B.B. Brandenburg (left) and Corey Baxter after gaining a first down. Ho, who transferred to Evans, knows firsthand about strong
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Over at the Brierpatch, the feeling is mutual.
"You always want to beat the people in your county," Greenbrier coach Mickey Derrick said. "The thing about rivalries is that all of the players know each other."
It won't take long for prep football supremacy to be settled in Columbia County - Greenbrier and Evans compete in the season opener on Aug. 29 at Blanchard Stadium; Evans takes on Lakeside at Panther Stadium on Sept. 19; and on Sept. 19, Lakeside and Greenbrier tangle at the Brierpatch.
Unlike the traditional college wars, such as Michigan-Ohio state or Georgia-Florida, prep gridiron rivalries have gone through some changes in Columbia County.
Before Lakeside opened in 1988, the big game was Evans vs. Harlem; when Greenbrier came on the scene in 1996, Lakeside and Evans was a bitter matchup, but it's losing some bite.
'It's between Evans and Greenbrier, but right now I'd probably say Greenbrier is more of a rival than anybody," Lakeside coach Randy Hill said. "A lot of our players feel Greenbrier gets more recognition than we do, and that makes kids disgruntled."
The Evans-Greenbrier-Lakeside debate gets turned up a notch in 2004, as all three teams will enter Region 8-AAAA. The three county schools have never all competed in the same region, and in the future showdowns, region standings and playoff berths will up the ante.
"I think it will make the games more significant when they're in our region, but they're big this year," Evans coach Marty Jackson said.
Ask Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis about rivalries, and there's a wistful pause.
"We really don't have a big rival," Lewis said. "It used to be Harlem and Evans when I played, but I don't think we have one now."
The Augusta Christian Lions can relate.
"Proximity has always limited a true, natural rivalry, with us being the only Triple-A school in this area," AC coach Bruce Lane said. "I guess we're an island unto ourselves. Everyone we play, with the exception of Briarwood, is a two-hour trip. That makes it difficult to develop a rivalry, which I'm sure Evans has found."
The Knights currently compete in Atlanta-based Region 7-AAAAA, so Evans has to experience good, old-fashioned hate during non-region battles against Greenbrier and Lakeside.
"You don't have to worry about motivating players for the big rivalries," Jackson said. "But players ought to get up for region games, too."
Still, playing Lakeside DeKalb isn't quite the same for Evans, and that also goes for the fans.
The traditional rivalries drew the largest crowds of the season in 2002.
The Greenbrier-Evans game at the Brierpatch attracted 2,506 paying customers; by comparison, Greenbrier's homecoming game vs. Burke County drew 995, and the Pack's smallest home crowd was the 735 that turned out for the regular-season finale against Statesboro.
Lakeside at Evans featured 2,235 fans; the next biggest gate at Blanchard Stadium was 1,335 when the Knights faced Lithonia 1,335. About 2,100 fans were on hand when Greenbrier visited Lakeside.
"When you see the fans cheering, that makes you play better," Ho said. "It definitely makes a difference. The Greenbrier and Lakeside games provide motivation for the season. Those are the most exciting games of the year, except for the state playoffs."
Without question, rivalries pump up players and put people in the stands. But in order to reach season goals, teams have to find motivation every Friday night.
"We try to approach every ballgame as the most important one we play," Lane said. "There are always small things with each team we play that we can build on that week to get an emotional edge."
But you can't stop a player from dreaming.
"We don't have a cross-town rival, but I wish we did," AC senior Cole Rabun said.
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