CHULA -- The Tiftarea Academy Panthers will open the 2002 football season for area high schools tonight against the Valwood School Valiants. It will be the first game as Tiftarea head coach for Roger Womack.

Playing the Valiants will be Tiftarea's first foray into Class AA football as the Panthers move down from Class AAA this season. The contest will be a non-region affair as Tiftarea is in Region 2-AA, while Valwood is in 3-AA.

Valiant head coach Mike Patrick is happy the game will not count in his league standings.

"They are a very strong football team," Patrick said. "I know coach Womack will have them ready to play."

Even though this is also Patrick's first year as the head coach at Valwood, he said he is aware of Womack's coaching style.

"I have coached against coach Womack for many years. I know what kind of coach and person he is," said Patrick.

So far the Valwood head coach has been impressed with the Panthers.

"I saw Tiftarea play in that scrimmage against Brookwood and Terrell a couple of weeks ago and they looked awesome. They look like they are both extremely quick and strong," Patrick said. "They are going to be a tough test for us."

While Tiftarea was making the second round of the state Class AAA playoffs last season, Valwood posted a 2-8 mark.

But that has not stopped the optimism that Patrick is feeling about the upcoming season.

"Right now everything has gone well for us. We have a very young team, but practices have gone well," the coach said.

Patrick also has another big reason to look forward to the new season.

"We are moving into a new school. We start school Monday and we will have a new football field that we have not even stepped foot on yet," Patrick said.

The Valiants will inaugurate their new stadium with a young team as Patrick pointed out. Valwood will only dress five seniors.

Two of those seniors will lead the defense, linebacker Austin Glennon and lineman Josh Thomas. "We will count on them to be our two main leaders," said Patrick.

The only senior on the offensive side of the ball is lineman Trey Woods.

"He started last year, but his season ended in the fourth game when he broke his leg. We are expecting a lot of big things from him this season," Patrick said of Woods.

Junior Adam DeLong will join Woods as a leader on the offensive line.

After starting seven games as a freshman, Josh Hobdy will return at quarterback.

"We feel like he is developing at a quick pace. He played against a lot of tough competition last year, but he is still young and has a lot to learn," said Patrick.

A pair of junior running backs, Shane McDowell, a transfer from Lowndes, and Brian Reveron will be in the backfield with Hobdy.

"Our main offensive weapon though is our kicker, Chad Gallahan He is now a four-year starter and he has a great leg. His kickoffs are always deep and he is a legitimate Division I prospect," said Patrick. "We just have to get him down close enough to attempt some field goals this season. We were not able to do that last year."

The Valwood coach said his team, "is looking forward to the challenge of playing Tiftarea."

Game time will be 7:30 p.m. at the Panther Pit in Chula.

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