The game wasn’t official and won’t show in anyone’s history book. It didn’t violate any rule, but Clay Central played Aug. 17 in its new stadium.
The Volunteers played themselves, and it wasn’t really so much an intrasquad game as much as a dress rehearsal with pregame warmups, fans, the marching band and cheerleaders.
It was a chance for everyone involved in the merged school’s game-day activities to do it kind of for real before having to do it for real.
See, folks associated with Clay Central did this as rivals Lineville and Clay County, but Clay Central had never done this.
“As far as feeling like this is our football team, yes, we’re past that,” Clay Central coach Steve Giddens said hours before the, ahem, game. “As far as the kids getting along and the coaches getting along and all, I think everybody that’s associated with the football team is past that.
“That doesn’t mean that we’ve got everything straightened out just so we’re ready to play our best football we’re going to play all year. That’s what we’re doing what we’re doing tonight. We’re going to practice playing a football game.”
It kind of puts grand expectations surrounding Clay Central’s debut season in perspective, eh?
And expectations? Clay Central has them.
The Volunteers, the merger of Class 2A power Lineville and 3A power Clay County, will open its first season ranked No. 8 in Class 4A in the Alabama High School Athletic Association poll.
The Vols will play in a 4A region that includes No. 2 Handley, which won the 3A title in 2011, and No. 3 Dadeville.
No one seems to let that temper expectations, certainly not the 91 players that Giddens and ex-Clay County coach Kris Herron, now the defensive coordinator, paced through preseason workouts.
“State,” said senior safety Jamari Staples, formerly of Clay County, when asked his expectations. “State champions.”
Senior and ex-Lineville standout Jamario Lyles, set to be Clay Central’s first starting quarterback, says bring on the expectations.
“I think it’s good, knowing that both teams (Lineville and Clay County) were known for winning,” he said. “We’re expecting a state championship.”
Of the 22 starting positions on offense and defense, Giddens said “18 or 19” will be filled by players who started at those same positions a year ago. Among current players who started for either Lineville or Clay County a year ago, there was little position overlap.
Each team filled the other’s needs.
“We’re a veteran team,” Giddens said. “We’ll play mostly juniors and seniors that have been starting at Ashland or Lineville either one or two years.”
He expects about 35 players to see the field, about double the 15-18 that took most of the snaps at Lineville. Rare will be the two-way player.
Then again, that’s 4A football, something Giddens used to admire from Lineville’s sideline in those annual games against Cleburne County.
And more than with the 4A teams Clay Central will play, the Vols must adjust to new terminology. Former Clay County players on offense are learning old Lineville terminology. Former Lineville players on defense are learning old Clay County terminology.
Everything from formations to pregame warmup drills have different names, which means little of what Clay Central does this season will come as “second nature,” Giddens said.
There will be lots of thinking instead of reacting, especially in the first half of the season. That could cause subtle issues that can make a difference in games.
No. 10 Beauregard, Clay Central’s opponent tonight in Montgomery, will play on second nature and could take advantage of a new team still feeling its way.
On the upside, Handley and Dadeville come later in the schedule, in weeks 7 and 9. If Clay Central gets there without significant injuries and hiccups along the way, then the Vols’ prospects look good in a top-heavy region.
As for soaring expectations, well, this is still Clay County.
“When we realized this (merger) was going to happen as coaches, you don’t have to be really smart to realize that expectations are probably going to be unrealistic,” Giddens said. “Win every game by 50 points and never lose one, and that’s sort of what you feel people expect.
“Being in Clay County as long as I have, I understand why it’s that way, with the success that both teams have had, so the expectations and all, honestly, don’t bother me.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.