They spent their days as players and assistants before ascending to head coaching roles at their alma maters.
James Leonard and Antwaun Hillary then worked as Border Bowl assistants before they officially took another step up.
On Tuesday, Aquinas coach Leonard and Strom Thurmond coach Hillary were introduced as the head coaches for Team Georgia and Team South Carolina for Border Bowl IV. The game is set for noon on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017 at Laney’s stadium.
The game features many of the area’s best senior football players in an All-Star game format of Georgia vs. South Carolina. Georgia won two of the first three Border Bowls, winning 24-10 in 2014 and 35-21 this year. South Carolina beat Georgia 12-8 in Border Bowl II.
“The crowds just get bigger every year,” Leonard said. “I know Augusta is really fired up about it. I’m pumped up; it’s going to be fun.”
Leonard is 38-3 in three seasons as Aquinas’ head coach, winning the Class A private state title in 2013 for the program’s first state championship. The Irish went 12-2 in 2015, making it back to the Georgia Dome before losing in the state final.
Across the river, Hillary took over for Lee Sawyer prior to the 2014 season. After going 7-5 in his first year, Hillary led the Rebels to a 10-2 finish in 2015, reaching the quarterfinals of the Class AA, Division I playoffs.
Now the two coaches will face off against each other in a showdown between two young coaches — Hillary was the Rebels’ senior quarterback in 1999 while Leonard graduated from Aquinas in 2005.
“I’m just lucky and I thank God every day that I’m part of that new breed,” Hillary said. “Coach Leonard does a good job over there where he is as well. It’s a new look for the area.”