Area's season begins with contests in South Carolina

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It begins.

This Friday will be the first step in a marathon for the area's high school football fans.

Augusta's designation as a straddle city on the Georgia and South Carolina state lines creates an extended viewing period for prep football. A few area South Carolina teams start Week Zero play this week. That's two weeks ahead of the area's 25 Georgia High School Association teams, who open Aug. 31.

If one area GHSA team advances to the state semifinals, it will mean this is the start of 17 consecutive weeks of high school football for the area.

THIS WEEK'S BIG GAMES

1. Beaufort (0-0) at Aiken (0-0), 8 p.m., Friday: Beaufort pushed Aiken to the limit last season. The Hornets needed two goal-line stands that resulted in no points to hold on for a 14-7 win.

The Eagles had a lot of 2006 contests like that despite their 6-6 record. Beaufort lost six times last year by a total of 30 points. They also went 5-1 on the road.

2. Rock Hill (0-0) at South Aiken (0-0), 7:30 p.m., Friday: The Thoroughbreds opened their 2006 season with a hard-fought 13-10 loss that foreshadowed a trend of coming up short one week after another.

The Thoroughbreds lost by margins of two, three , five and seven points last year on the way to a 5-7 finish. A debut win against the perennially strong Bearcats could knock the lid off a breakout season.

3. Christ Church at Ridge Spring-Monetta, 7:30 p.m., Friday: The Trojans are coming off the best season in school history. They face a tough opening test against Christ Church, which went 9-2 last season.

SECOND COMING: There are good reasons to take a wait-and-see approach and not rush Anthony "A.G." Middlebrooks out there as a player to watch for this fall.

Lincoln County's sophomore running back has never started a varsity game. He did not start for his junior varsity team last year.

But those points might be moot by October. Middlebrooks happens to be Garrison Hearst's nephew. Once he's seen up close, there's no need to wait on painting the red-and-white bandwagon.

Hearst became a Georgia schoolboy legend at running back for Lincoln County. He was an All-American at Georgia and finished third in the 1992 Heisman Trophy balloting before turning pro after his junior season. Picked third in the NFL Draft, he spent nine years in the league.

It's already evident the athletic apple fell from the same family tree. One Lincoln County coach said his physical skills are on par with the attributes Hearst displayed as a sophomore in 1987.

To be fair, Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell noted the youngster is still a bit behind in learning the team's offense.

That's expected of any sophomore. But Middlebrooks also has the acceleration and shiftiness that should not be expected out of any sophomore.

"He's a well-built young man and he's going to be a great player for us," Campbell said.

Middlebrooks is expected to start the year at fullback to give him time to adjust to playing with the first unit.

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.

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