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Stephenson opens season in Gridiron Challenge
by Matt Nascone
mnascone@neighbornewspapers.com
August 29, 2012 02:53 PM | 1704 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Staff / Samantha M. Shal<br>
From left, Stephenson senior linebacker Rashad Payne and senior center Jordan Dunham.
Staff / Samantha M. Shal
From left, Stephenson senior linebacker Rashad Payne and senior center Jordan Dunham.
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The Stephenson Jaguars will be one of six teams opening the season in the national spotlight.

Stephenson will face Pine Forest High School of Pensacola, Fla. in the second of three games in the National High School Gridiron Challenge at North Gwinnett Sept. 1. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.

Jaguars’ head coach Ron Gartrell said he enjoyed getting a call from North Gwinnett.

“We are excited to be a part of the challenge,” Gartrell said. “You have to be a decent team to be invited to something like that.”

Gartrell said playing a team from outside the Georgia borders is something his staff has been planning for a while.

“This is just an exciting time for the community and the kids,” Gartrell said. “We hope we can get out there and be competitive with a very strong team.”

The Jaguars and Pine Forest hold similar records since the 2000 season. Stephenson is 109-24 during a 12-season playoff run that began in the 2000 season.

Pine Forest has compiled a 102-38 record since winning a Florida state title in 2000.

Gartrell said he has not seen much recent film on the Eagles, but he knows the team will come to play hard.

Gartrell said the keys to opening the season with a win will be the play of the offensive line and the secondary.

“We have a tremendous amount of size on the offensive line but not much experience,” Gartrell said. “I think this is a unit that can become a strength for this team. And our secondary is much better at this point than last year’s team and it could be stronger when all is said and done.”

Gartrell said the Jaguars will look for some newcomers to produce at the offensive skill positions after losing two senior running backs. Three of Stephenson’s top four wide receivers are sophomores.

The other two games in the challenge will pit host North Gwinnett against AC Flora of Columbia, S.C. in the night game and Valdosta will face North Augusta (S.C.) in the early game.

The season opener is Stephenson’s lone non-region game. Gartrell said the Jaguars will benefit from being in the DeKalb super-conference this season.

Stephenson will face eight opponents within the DeKalb County lines.

“We will not be on the road as much but a lot of these teams have done well in the past few years,” Gartrell said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us but we are excited for this season to start.”
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