The Stephenson Jaguars step onto the national stage to open the 2012 high school football season as they take on Pine Forest High School of Pensacola, Fla., in the second of three games in the National High School Gridiron Challenge hosted by North Gwinnett High School on Saturday, Sept. 1.
The game is set for a 3 p.m. start and will be aired live on WSB Channel 2 in Atlanta and over 13 states by Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS) as well as being broadcast on 680 The Fan in Atlanta.
The Jaguars hold a string of 12 consecutive playoff appearances (13-11 overall in the playoffs), including a 2005 appearance in the Class AAAAA state semifinals at the Georgia Dome. Stephenson is 135-48 (0.738 winning percentage) under its only coach, Ron Gartrell, since the school began football in 1996 with a 1-9 season.
Gartrell (170-95 overall at Shamrock and Stephenson) elevated the Jaguars to perennial playoff contenders beginning in 2000 to start the 12 consecutive playoff appearances. During this 12 year run the Jaguars are 109-24 (.820), including six seasons of 10 or more wins including 12-1 in 2002 and 12-2 in 2005.
The Jaguar players also have performed well in the classroom as 80 athletes signed college scholarships over the past three seasons, including 29 of 32 seniors off the 2009 squad. Twenty-six followed in 2010 and 25 off this past season's team.
The Jaguars, which lost 18 senior starters this past season, are led by three seniors already committed to colleges heading into the fall.
Linebacker Rashad Payne (Howard University), quarterback Justin Holman (Central Florida) and defensive back Ali Groves (South Carolina) are being looked as leaders in 2012.
Senior defensive end Jonathan Wynn returns following a 51-tackle season that included five sacks and 10 tackles for a loss to help lead the Jaguar defense along with junior defensive back Jared Tucker (58 tackles, 4 interceptions), Payne (35 tackles) and Groves (19 tackles, one interception and three pass break ups).
Holman returns to lead the offense after passing for 739 yards and eight touchdowns and rushing for 91 yards and two more touchdowns for the Jaguars.
Pine Forest is a three-time state champion in Florida and holds one national championship. Since 2000 the school is 102-38 (.729) overall on the field. Jerry Pollard is the head football coach at Pine Forest who is 64-21 in eight seasons.
The Eagles went 14-0 in 1988 winning the Florida Class AAAAA state title and the USA Today National Championship. They won the Class AAAAA state title in 1987 and the Class AAAA state title in 2000.
Pine Forest traveled to Georgia last season and defeated DeKalb's Columbia High School 20-14 on the way to an 8-3 season in 2011. Senior quarterback Rashard Lee leads the Eagles after rushing for 1,019 yards on 107 carries (9.5 yards per carry), 15 touchdowns while passing for 835 yards in 2011. He is joined in the backfield by senior running back Lorenzo Long, who rushed for 869 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. North Gwinnett's Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium plays host to the event, in which Valdosta, which leads the nation with a record 829 wins, takes on North Augusta, S.C., which is 35-6 over the past three years with two consecutive (2010-11) state semifinal appearances, to open the Gridiron Challenge at 12 noon.
Host North Gwinnett enters its matchup with AC Flora of Columbia, S.C., at 6 p.m. coming off a region championship in 2011 and a national ranking. Flora has won its region two of the past three years and is 22-4 over its last 26 games including the Lower State Championship this past season.