Two football teams couldn't be more similar than the North Augusta Yellow Jackets and Strom Thurmond's Rebels.
Therefore, it's only fitting that the Rebels visit the Yellow Jackets tonight at 8 to begin the high school football season.
Both squads are coming off disappointing seasons. Strom Thurmond went 5-7 but made it to the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs before losing 27-21 to Dillon. North Augusta, which hasn't made it to the Class AAAA, Division II playoffs since 1995, finished 4-7.
But this year has the Rebels and Jackets feeling optimistic. Both teams start a talented corps of experienced seniors on offense but are young on defense.
Last season, North Augusta took two Thurmond fumbles the distance in a 19-0 victory at Edgefield.
"That was just a poorly played game by the Rebels," Thurmond coach Brian Smith said of the 1998 loss. "We just had too many turnovers and we really weren't in sync. But I told these guys to play for the present and not for the past. We've talked about this for awhile, and hopefully we'll play well this week."
North Augusta coach Joe Long said he is prepared for a neighborhood brawl.
"They also have a lot of incentive coming here since we beat them last year," Long said of the Rebels. "We have to be able to stop the Hillary boys in order to win. We don't expect a cake walk by any means."
Each side has stars that are sure to make an impact in the game. The Augusta Chronicle "Dream 16" players on the field tonight include North Augusta quarterback Anthony Young and running back Jamaal Johnson, and Thurmond quarterback Antwaun Hillary.
Young, who tallied 1,172 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air as a junior at Thomson (Ga.) last season, will try to make his first impression in North Augusta a memorable one. Young is also a threat to run, and with an experienced offensive line leading the way, he will further his chances of playing for a Division I school. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder already has received a scholarship offer from Michigan State.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Johnson, a senior, rushed for 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
The Rebels' 6-foot, 180-pound Antwaun Hillary is a three-year starter who passed for 900 yards and rushed for 600 last season. When Antwaun isn't passing or running, he's handing off to cousin Daryl Hillary, who racked up 1,265 yards on the ground as a junior tailback. Both are nephews of former Thurmond, University of South Carolina and NFL wide receiver Ira Hillary.
"I don't ever question those guys' willingness to play," Thurmond's Smith said. "They've been playing well and have provided a great deal of leadership for us. They have a couple of guys that can go too, so it should be a good one."
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