By Devin Golden
RINGGOLD — When asked to help cast a net to any recent area high school graduates interested in playing in the The Stump on Sports Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Football Classic, Southeast Whitfield alumnus Easton Ridley knew one person to call.
Dalton’s Brandon Painter, who missed the final half of his senior season, was happy to answer and join the roster for Team Georgia.
Painter and Ridley are among nine area high school alumni expected to suit up and compete one more time tonight in the Classic, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Spears Stadium on the campus of Chattanooga’s McCallie School. The showcase of recent high school graduates from southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia is the first of several all-star contests to be played over the next week and a half.
Admission to tonight’s game is $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6-12 and free for children younger than 6.
Ridley referred to himself and Painter as “friends,” along with many other recent Dalton graduates who played football for the Catamounts. He said those friendships go back to their elementary school days, when they played together in youth recreation leagues.
So when Georgia head coach David Gann wanted to increase the roster size, Ridley called Painter.
“I’ve known Brandon. He’s a real good friend of mine,” Ridley said Thursday during practice at Don Patterson Stadium in Ringgold. “Coach asked us if we knew anyone that wanted to play, so I called Brandon. ... I got him out here today.”
The two spent much of Thursday’s practice lined up next to one another as wide receivers and spent time during breaks talking like longtime high school teammates. That was despite the fact they were rivals just last fall, when Dalton beat Ridley’s Raiders 14-10 with a late score. Ridley’s 24-yard run was the lone Raiders touchdown against the Cats.
“I only don’t like them when I’m playing against them,” Painter said of going against local rivals. “I specifically don’t like any of them when I play, but I like being around them in general and especially like having (Ridley) as a teammate.”
Painter suffered a fracture in his right foot during Dalton’s seventh game of 2012, a 43-0 win versus LaFayette, and missed the remaining five games, which included two state playoff contests. The wide receiver originally wasn’t on the Georgia roster, but said he was happy to be given one more chance. He’s not done with sports — he plans to play basketball at Georgia Northwestern Technical College next school year — but wasn’t expecting to return to the football field.
“I probably would play in the game even if I got a chance to finish my senior season, but (the injury) made it even more so that I wanted to play,” Painter said. “... I mainly remember the feeling of coming out here and getting to run routes again. I didn’t plan on doing it anymore. I didn’t plan on strapping it up, because I was tired of getting hit.”
But in addition to competition, the game provides a good opportunity to meet athletes from different cities and schools. The Georgia roster includes 33 players representing 13 schools. North Murray has three — safety Tino Hernandez, defensive end David Martin and kicker Izzy Hernandez. Along with Ridley, Southeast has defensive back/wideout Kevin Torres, offensive lineman Jared Davis and defensive tackle Jayro Perez. Northwest Whitfield linebacker Jarrod Farmer is also competing, and alumni from Adairsville, Cartersville, Dade County, Gordon Central, Gordon Lee, LaFayette, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, Ridgeland and Ringgold also are on the roster.
“It’s a way to get to know these guys, especially the kids who aren’t from our area, like Cartersville and Gordon Central and even Ringgold,” Painter said. “Southeast players, I’ll probably be able to hang out with them, but for a lot of these guys, this is the last time I’ll have a chance to chill with them.”
Ridley — a running back and linebacker who signed a scholarship with the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kan., also the destination for Ringgold linebacker Cannan Briner — said he “doesn’t like (any opponent) really when playing” but that those feelings are left on the field.
And this game provides one last chance to have those feelings for an opponent, even if it’s not the same opponent they’re used to.
Regardless, Gann said natural competitive instincts will kick in.
“They’re even getting competitive at practice,” Gann said. “We ran the last play about 10 times because everyone kept saying, ‘Coach, one more play. One more play.’ The defense keeps wanting to whip the offense and vice versa. So they’re all just competitive naturally, and it will get competitive (tonight). It’ll be just like a Friday night football game.”
In addition to the football game, the Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Classic series features games for girls and boys basketball (6 and 8 p.m. on Tuesday at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga); girls and boys soccer (1:30 and 3:30 p.m. on June 15 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga); baseball (6 p.m. on June 17 at Ridgeland High School in Rossville); and softball (6 p.m. on June 19 at Frost Stadium in Chattanooga).
Stump Martin, the game’s creator, was a reporter for the Chattanooga News-Free Press and Chattanooga Times Free Press for 19 years and also was on ESPN Radio’s 105.1 The Zone in Chattanooga, managing editor of Friday Night Football Live Tennessee and co-owner of Tennessee’s high school Rivals.com website, TNVarsity.com. Martin has hosted “Stump on Sports Late Nite,” a live sports television show for nearly 30 years.