For 10 years, through good seasons and bad, Ruth Pritchard has rooted for the Hephzibah High School Rebels. But never before tonight has a football game meant so much.
Her grandson, fullback and linebacker Jason Buckner, makes his varsity football debut in tonight's opening game at Greenbrier High School.
"She goes to every game," said Dona Buckner, Jason's mother. "Over the last eight to 10 years, she has went and watched other kids play.
"But when you have a child playing, that has a lot more (excitement) to do with it."
All across Augusta and Columbia County, high school students, fans, coaches, cheerleaders and players this week prepared for the start of the prep season with last-minute practices, spirit-rousing pep rallies and field maintenance. Aiken County's prep football season began last week.
On Thursday afternoon, T.W. Josey High School's Eagles gathered in the weight room for one last study hall session and practice before tonight's home opener against Butler High School. Some players pumped off pushups while others read from textbooks.
Though this year's team - heir to the 1995 state AAA champion Eagles - haven't hit the gridiron for an audience yet, football mania has already invaded the school. A pep rally is planned for today, and some teachers are offering extra homework points for students who attend the game, said freshman Dejeneiro Powell, 16.
"I think it's going to be all that," said Travaras Taylor, 16, a sophomore. "Josey's going to win."
Starting players James Bonner and Nicholas Kelley were already promising a repeat of last year's 11-2 season.
"If not better," said Nicholas, 16, a tight end.
"Practice makes perfect, and we're already there," said James, 18, a junior starting fullback.
Winning was also on the minds of players at Greenbrier High School in Columbia County, who hoped to christen their new stadium with a victory.
"We've been working real hard for our first game," said linebacker Lamar Leverett, 17. "We know Hephzibah's probably ready. We know they're pretty pumped up to come out and redeem themselves."
Players and coaches expected the stands to be packed for tonight's game. But on Thursday afternoon, the new stadium still wasn't ready for its unveiling.
Artists painted wolf paws along the stadium's outer sidewalk. They waited for players to leave the field before adding the final touch - a giant green-and-gold G.
As Harlem High School's football team practiced Thursday for tonight's home game against Athens Academy, the school band polished its sideline and half-time show, capping a long summer of work.
"I've always thought of the band as what gets the team pumped," said sophomore Neal Harnage, 15, who plays the sousaphone. "The band is going to be pumped up, ready to put the show in the field."