The Americans, coached by Mount Paran Christian’s Mitch Jordan, will consist of players from Allatoona, Kennesaw Mountain, Lassiter, Marietta, McEachern, Mount Paran, Pope, Sprayberry, South Cobb, Wheeler and Whitefield Academy.
The Nationals will feature players from Campbell, Harrison, Hillgrove, Kell, North Cobb, North Cobb Christian, Osborne, Pebblebrook, Walker and Walton.
Osborne’s Xarvia Smith, who will coach the Nationals, said he is excited to get the players on the field and see how they match up against one another. He’s particularly interested in seeing how his Osborne players fare against players they haven’t faced before.
“I’m very honored that they chose me as their head coach,” Smith said. “I’m excited and can’t wait to get going. I’m blessed to be with some great guys and great coaches. The challenge is making sure that we have fun and don’t take it too seriously and just try to learn from one another.”
Players from smaller schools, such as Walker running back Evan Kasian or Whitefield’s Richard Sherrell, will compete against players from larger schools, such as Sprayberry linebacker Torry Richardson or Kell cornerback Brendan Langley.
“It’s going to be fun to watch those kids and see how they compete,” Smith said. “See the Osborne kids and how they compete with the big boys. We’re excited. I think last year the game was really close and I think it will be close again this year.”
The Cobb Senior Bowl is about more than a game. The festivities, modeled after the NFL’s Pro Bowl, consume an entire week. Player meetings, practices, team-building exercises and an outing with special-needs children are just some of the week’s activities. Also planned are speakers and a Christmas party for 1,000 homeless and economically disadvantaged children.
The game day will features a festive atmosphere with a pre-game brunch for players, a motivational speaker and an induction into the Cobb Senior Bowl Coaches Hall of Fame.
A fifth quarter will also be added to this season’s game — an addition that will serve two purposes.
As the game has grown to include more than 140 players, the fifth quarter will ensure adequate playing time.
“You want to make sure every kid gets a chance to play and every parent gets a chance to see their kid play,” Smith said. “For some of these kids, this may be their last football game. Some of them will go on to play college, but for a lot of them, this is their last game. You want it to be something fun and something that they’ll remember for the rest of the life.”
The fifth quarter will also be a dedication to the families of two players who wore the No. 5 before dying at a young age — McEachern’s Rajaan Bennett and Harrison’s Luke Abbate.
Bennett was killed in February 2010, the victim of a gunshot wound from his mother’s boyfriend. The 18-year-old had recently signed a scholarship to play football at Vanderbilt.
Nearly four years before Bennett’s death, the 15-year-old Abbate died of injuries he suffered in a car accident with teammates on the Harrison lacrosse team. The Abbate family’s story, including older brother Jon’s inspirational football career at Wake Forest, was the basis for the 2011 film “The 5th Quarter”.
The Bennett and Abbate families will be recognized in an on-field dedication on game day of the Cobb Senior Bowl.