The Carver High football team will get its first crack at Class AAAAA competition when it faces Carver-Atlanta at Tri-Cities today.
Along with Hardaway, the Tigers are playing in the third annual Tri-Cities Labor Day Classic in East Point. The Tigers kick off the day at 2:30 p.m., while the Hawks face Tri-Cities at 5:30 p.m.
A third game between Benjamin E. Mays and Langston Hughes will get top billing at 8:30 p.m.
The three games will feature a number of the state's top recruits, none more prominent than the handful Carver features on its roster.
Entering their first season in Class AAAAA, the Tigers are led by junior quarterback Jawon Pass, senior linebacker Mekhi Brown and senior defensive back Khane Pass, among others. All three are likely headed to premier Division-I schools on football scholarships when the graduate, Brown to Alabama, Khane Pass to Louisville and Jawon Pass to one of the number of offers he's already pulled in.
It's a talented team with high expectations, which will be put to the test against a team that went 7-4 and played in the Class AAAA playoffs a year ago.
"They're well-coached," Carver coach Joe Kegler said of Carver-Atlanta. "They went to the playoffs last year, so they're a real solid football team. We have to be prepared. You can't take any team lightly."
The Tigers played a scrimmage against Southwest Dekalb last Saturday, and Kegler said his team accomplished some good things. On the other hand, there were mistakes that need to be corrected now that they're entering the real schedule.
"You can't turn the ball over," he said. "We had two giveaways and you can't do that. On the defensive side, we had a couple of chances to get some takeaways and didn't. You have to take advantage of those opportunities."
Taking advantage will be a repeated mantra for the team all year. The current roster is as talented as any in the state.
Jawon Pass is heading into his second season as the starter, and his progress will be a determining factor in how far this team can go.
Pass threw for over 2,100 yards and 23 touchdowns last year and has a chance to put up even better numbers this season.
"I feel like I've gotten better," he said. "I'm more of a leader."
He said he expects Carver-Atlanta to be an aggressive defense, which could pose problems but could also present some opportunities.
"They'll key in on guys like (wide receiver) Nate (Barley), so someone else is going to have to step up and make plays too," he said. "I have confidence in them."
A win wouldn't mean much in the long term, but for the immediate future it would give the team an early boost.
"We're ready to play," Pass said. "We're focused. We always feel like the underdogs, so we've got something to prove."
Hardaway will play its game against Tri-Cities, which, despite recent success like its 10-win season in 2011, went 1-8-1 last year. The Hawks were 2-8 and are in a similar boat, trying to start a foundation on which to build this season.
David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter