WARNER ROBINS — The spotlight always shines a little brighter on the big stage that is the Northside-Warner Robins game.
Usually, players from either of the storied programs have time to acclimate themselves to that environment. They’ll dress out as freshmen. Earn a few reps as sophomores. Maybe start as a junior. Come senior year, they’ve steeled themselves against the distractions of the week and the pressure of the moment.
This year’s matchup is a little different for at least two players. Marquee athletes from each team will be making their first appearance in the big game. Calvin Franklin-Moore of Warner Robins and Steven Nelson of Northside transferred to their respective schools as seniors.
“Growing up, I always liked to go to the games because people seemed hyped up about it,” Nelson said. “It’s gonna be a big deal for me to actually play my first game.”
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Nelson, a cornerback and return man, said he transferred from Houston County when his mother moved into the Northside zone. He said while he was with the Bears, both Northside and Warner Robins were rivals. But those contests didn’t have the history or the stakes of a typical Demons vs. Eagles contest.
Franklin-Moore moved in to the Warner Robins district from Harris County about nine months ago. He was adopted out of the Methodist Home in Waverly Hall by Evette Moore-Woodruff and Darius Woodruff of Warner Robins.
“It’s going great,” Franklin-Moore said of his new living arrangement. “Just caring for each other, giving each other support through these times.”
Franklin-Moore has heard plenty about the Warner Robins-Northside game from his adoptive parents and his new teammates. While at Harris County, Franklin-Moore’s biggest rival was Hardaway. The game drew “thousands,” he said. He’s beginning to understand the magnitude of the Northside-Warner Robins game ramps that up a bit.
“They say it’s a big rivalry,” he said. “That everyone comes to the game just to see who’s going to win, who’s going to go hard or go home.”
Nelson’s Eagles are 4-0 and he has played a big role in the team’s fast start. Nelson has three punt returns for touchdowns and he’s had another three called back for penalty.
By contrast, Franklin-Moore and the Demons (0-4) are struggling through the young season. After fighting his way up the depth chart, the fullback-running back is averaging about seven touches a game.
Yet both players seem to realize performances in this game tend to overshadow what came before — or occurs after. The key is to be ready when opportunities present themselves.
“By going hard in practice, doing what my coaches tell me to do,” Franklin-Moore said when asked about his preparation. “Doing all my assignments: blocking, running, executing well and pounding the ball.”
Said Nelson, “Just keep my mind focused and just stay down on myself — have a good mentality about the game.”