TIFTON -- While it may not be officially on the calendar, tonight is a holiday for most of South Georgia as it marks the official start of the high school football season.

The Tift County Blue Devils will begin the Jay Walls era in Cordele as Tift's new head coach leads his squad on to the field to take on the Crisp County Cougars.

"I am very excited. It has been a long time since Feb. 1 when I took the job and I am looking forward to getting started," Walls said.

Tiftarea Academy will also welcome a new head coach as Chuck Moore will lead the Panthers at home against the Crisp Academy Wildcats.

"We are as excited as we can be. This time of the year, you are excited and curious on what is going to happen as every year plays out in its own way," Moore said. "We are just hoping to make it the best year possible."

In the one game tonight that features two teams from the Tiftarea, the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes will play host to the Berrien High Rebels in a battle of Class AA squads.

It will be Ross New's first game as Berrien head coach, but it will be a familiar setting as New went against Fitzgerald during his time as Irwin County head coach.

But, the encounter will be the first time New has coached against Fitzgerald's Robby Pruitt, who has been the Canes' head coach for four of the past five years.

The Class A Turner County Rebels will be at Rochelle to face fellow Class A competitor, the Wilcox County Patriots. Head coach Erik Soliday's Turner squad will be led by 2004 first-team All-State wide receiver Shawn Jackson, as well quarterback Mikel Soliday. The quarterback was honorable-mention All-State last season and is the son of the Rebel head coach.

In Sylvester, the Worth County Rams will play host to the Lee County Trojans. Coach Harold Brantley's team will have to contend with a Lee squad that will feature quarterback D'Vontrey Richardson, who is listed as the 86th highest-rated college prospect in the nation by The Sporting News.

Lee County is also listed as the No. 10 team in the preseason Class AAAA Associated Press football poll.

Coach George Dean's Cook High Hornets will also face a tough test in their opener. The Hornets will travel to Cairo to take on the Syrupmakers. Cairo is listed as the No. 9 team in the preseason poll for Class AAA. Cook was tied for the 10th spot in the Class AA preseason poll.

Irwin County will wait a week to begin its season. The Indians will travel to Ashburn Aug. 26 to face Turner County.

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