Jeremy Mug

‘I need tickets’ signs may make their debut in Oconee County on Friday night. That probably won’t happen. It’s fun to speculate, right?

Everyone that wants to be at Friday’s Hog Mountain Bowl won’t get the chance to be. The decision was made that only 1,000 spectators will be allowed to enter Warrior Stadium.

We all know the circumstances of why this is necessary and probably the right decision. I’ll admit the atmosphere won’t be the same and that’s a shame.

I’ve covered two Hog Mountain Bowls in my time at The Oconee Enterprise. The first of the two, was a bit mired by the dreary conditions prior to the game. The rain and cold kept things a bit sluggish.

Last year was everything you’d expect from a rivalry game. Throw in a Region 8-4A championship trophy and the presence of Fox 5 and you’ve got what the atmosphere we had last season.

It was one of those I’ll remember for a while. The game wasn’t as tightly contested as it was expected to be. The pomp and circumstance were electric.

That’s for us. The bells and whistles of the night are for the fans, the students and the media. We all make the rivalry more than it is to the coaches and players. That’s what they’ll tell us.

I’ve been there before. One of my first experiences as a varsity football player came when I traveled with the team over to Cedar Shoals High School. It was my third game being on the varsity team after being brought up from the freshman team after our season ended.

I had knots in my stomach all week in practice.

There’s was a negative 30 percent chance that I was going to play. It was the only time I allowed myself to get caught in the rivalry hoopla.

All week my parents were talking about it. I’ve mentioned this in my time writing about rivalries in this county, but my mom is an alumni of CCHS and my father a Jaguar of Cedar Shoals High School.

They had their share of communication with their connections on each side of the bout for Athens. I took it all in. I guess you could say I was a bright eye-bushy tailed freshman. I wanted to see the difference between a regular game and a rivalry game. Practice felt a little more tense. The coaches really seemed to have one of their best gameplans.

Don’t believe the hype. ‘It’s just another game,’ is a lie.

As a player, you’d hope it is. That’s how you’re the most successful in these types of games. Man, I have all the clichés covered for you this week. Big-time players make big time plays in big time games. They do this because they hunt the spotlight. They thrive from it. Last year’s Hog Mountain Bowl saw Ben Noland, Max Johnson, Jake Johnson, Jimmy Boswell all had some of their best games in their high school careers.

That’s what it’s going to take Friday night. There won’t be a full stadium to draw from. It will be the team that has done things right leading up to Friday that will have the upper hand.

In 2020, no moment can be too big. My advice to all attending, playing or streaming is to enjoy it. This isn’t just another game. It’s a gift.

Jeremy Johnson is the sports editor for The Oconee Enterprise. Opinions expressed are those of the writer.

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