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VSU eyes Winnersville Classic

Cross-town rivals Lowndes and Valdosta High Schools will battle in their annual Winnersville Classic at Valdosta’s Bazemore-Hyder Stadium tomorrow night.

This heated rivalry brings hatred and intensity, but it is also a haven for great football talent. Each year the immense amount of talent brings college coaches from all over the country to South Georgia to recruit prospects.

It is often said that South Georgia is known for playing a different style of football than other parts of the state, often producing Division-I and Division-II college football talent.

“I think the talent down here in South Georgia is probably as good, or better than a lot of places around the state,” VSU Head Coach David Dean said. “And that’s obvious by the recruiting that we do; we do a lot in South Georgia. Most of our players come from the South Georgia area. Because it’s such good [talent], that’s the reason we attack it so well.”

There is no doubt that there are talented football teams in North Georgia, but it’s different in Valdosta. Dean sees the VSU community as a positive to developing big time college football talent.

“I think there’s a lot of distractions around the Atlanta area, you know, if you go up into Atlanta, guys don’t live in districts,” Dean said.  “They live and bus to a different area of the city. Here you grow up in a small town, the people here get to know you, you play for the people that are in that town, it’s more of a small town atmosphere, and the town gets behind the team.”

For Valdosta and Lowndes, the two AAAAA powerhouses sit just three miles away from VSU’s main campus. The close proximity of these two high schools gives recruits accessibility that no other school in the country can provide.

“Their family can see them play,” Dean said.  “They have an opportunity to get away and live in the dorm here and grow up and live in an apartment, live with teammates but if they ever want to go home and get mama’s cooking, it’s ten or fifteen minutes away.”

However, some kids aren’t as family oriented; the close proximity of the two high schools is seen as a negative for some prospects.

“A lot of times those guys like to leave home,” Dean said. “They have grown up here and they don’t want to play in the same place. We got a lot of guys from Lowndes that don’t want to come over and play for us because we play at VHS.  I think it would be the other way around if we had Valdosta guys and we played at Lowndes, they wouldn’t want to do that.”

It is hard to ignore the benefits of playing at VSU though. After all, not many programs can say they have won two national championships in three seasons.

“(Local recruits) get to live at home, they still get to see family, their family can come watch them play and that makes a difference a lot of times,” Dean said.

Coach Dean takes a different approach than persuading prospects to play at VSU because of the “Winnersville Game.”

“Every time that game is on ESPN, somehow or another, VSU gets mentioned, and that’s great for us as far as recruiting is concerned,” Dean said. “Anytime you get national recognition from two high school teams playing, it’s natural that anything around that town is going to receive some type of publicity from it and we benefit from it.”

The game will not be broadcasted on ESPN this year even though both VHS and LHS enter the game ranked inside the top 10 in Class AAAAA in the state of Georgia.

VSU has four players currently on the game day roster that have played in the Winnersville Classic, including cornerback Stevie Harden and defensive lineman Kier Moore, both of whom play big roles on the defensive side of the ball for VSU.

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