Officials from Airo Nation and Spire Sports + Entertainment announced the launch of the Inaugural Freedom Bowl, a two-day, six-game lineup hosted by Metro Atlanta's Milton High School and slated for this upcoming Labor Day Weekend (Aug. 31- Sept. 1).
"The Freedom Bowl brings top level high school football to one location and provides much more than just football competition," said David Menard, Founder and President of Airo Nation. "Utilizing this amazing platform will also inspire and educate our youth about what the men and women of our armed forces sacrifice to protect our freedom."
Spire Sports + Entertainment (based out of North Carolina) and Airo Nation (a Florida-based company that specializes in regional and national 7-on-7 tournaments) have teamed together to form the event, and sought out Atlanta-based Milton High School to be this inaugural year's exclusive host.
The matchups have not yet been set in stone, but the six-games will be divided into a Friday night double-header and a four-game Saturday lineup. Georgia will be represented on both days, with Milton playing on Friday and North Gwinnett playing on Saturday.
The 12 participating teams:
Milton (GA), North Gwinnett (GA), Mainland (FL), Wekiva (FL), Cardinal Gibbons (FL), Chaminade-Madonna (FL), Marjory Stoneman Douglas (FL), St. Joseph Regional (NJ), Muscle Shoals (AL), Bob Jones (AL), Saint Matthews Catholic Church (Ottawa, Canada).
ABOUT THE TEAMS
The host team,
, is coming off a 9-3 season in what marked head coach Adam Clack's first year at the school. The Eagles return a trio of highly-ranked Class of 2019 prospects, including 3-star quarterback Jordan Yates, 3-star linebacker Allen Walker and Clemson-commit Joseph Charleston, a 6-foot-2, safety. Rising junior Paul Tchio is a 4-star offensive tackle that stands 6-foot-5, 325 pounds.
head coach Bill Stewart led the Bulldogs to a 14-1 finish and state title (the first in program history) his first year on the job. Quarterback Cade Fortin (North Carolina-signee) has left a position battle this offseason, but the Bulldogs have plenty of talent and championship experience returning in 2018. Class of 2019 standouts Warren Burrell (CB), Tyler Goodson (RB), Quinton Newson (S) and DJ Turner II (CB) are back, as well as Class of 2020 four-star Josh Shuler (S). Burrell led the Bulldogs with five interceptions a year ago, while the speedy Goodson sparked the offense with 20 rushing touchdowns and four receiving scores.
(FL) finished 2017 with a 9-5 record in Class 6A. Starting guard Travis Robinson is a 3-star, 6-foot-3, 335-pound Class of 2019 prospect that already has offers from Florida, Florida Atlantic, Louisville and Missouri.
(FL) Mustangs went 12-2 in Class 8A last season and will have a star-studded senior class leading them this season, especially defensively. Four-star linebacker Rian Davis and four-star defensive tackle Tyler Davis are joined by 3-star cornerback Renardo Green and 3-star safety Brandon Hill.
(FL) comes off an 11-2 season that ended in a 58-57 overtime loss to American Heritage-Plantation. Four-star defensive end Khris Bogle and 3-star linebacker Yahweh Jeudy are primed for big senior seasons. Offensively, Nik Scalzo is a 3-star dual threat quarterback that has 6-foot-5 tight end Nikolas Ognenovic, 3-star running back Vincent Davis and 3-star offensive guard Jamari Williams supplementing an offense that averaged 36.6 points per game last season.
(FL) was 11-2 last season and currently has more prospects signed than any other team participating in the Inaugural Freedom Bowl, even with four-star receiver John Dunmore, 3-star receiver Marlon Mayo and 3-star cornerback James Williams entering this spring unsigned. Four-star safety Keontra Smith (Kentucky) and 4-star athlete Te'Coy Couch (Tennessee) have pledged to play in the SEC, while 6-foot-5 DE Cameron Williams and 4-star defensive tackle William Moise are both ACC-bound to play under head coach Mark Richt at the University of Miami.
(FL) is coming off back-to-back 6-4 seasons and the Eagles program has never experienced a losing season since head coach Willis May's arrival in 2013.
St. Joseph Regional
(NJ) is a Garden State powerhouse that finished 8-4 last season. The Green Knights boast 4-star offensive tackle John Olmstead (6-foot-6, 290 pounds), 4-star defensive end Howard Cross (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) and 3-star safety Connor Grieco (6-foot-3, 198 pounds) in the Class of 2019, as well as the state's No. 1 rated Class of 2020 prospect in 6-foot-4, 270-pound guard Luke Wypler.
(AL) produced a 9-3 record in Alabama's Class 6A last season. Three-star Class of 2019 quarterback Terrell McDonald will be back under center, while Class of 2020 middle linebacker Jackson Bratton (Alabama commit) will spearhead the Trojans' defense.
(AL) finished 8-4 last season, falling 22-21 to Mountain Brook in the Class 7A state playoffs. The Patriots return plenty of talent, including 3-star cornerback Jaydon Hill.
The St. Matthews Catholic (Ottawa, Canada) Tigers are coached by Jean Guillaume and have held a tryout this spring to field the team that will be representing 'The Land of 10 Provinces' in the Inaugural Freedom Bowl.
Tiger teammates Xavier Gervais (QB) and Alex Ross (OL) played in the 8th annual International Bowl in Arlington, Texas this past January as members of Team Ontario.
BIGGER THAN FOOTBALL
The teams, matchups and Milton facilities are all first class, but the game of football's ability to promote civic responsibility, bond communities and honor those that serve this country will shape the foundation that The Freedom Bowl strives to grow from.
"The Freedom Bowl educates student athletes, coaches, their families and fans on true heroism and to support those who serve and protect our nation,"
There will certainly be strong sentiments before, during and after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the deadliest high school shooting in history this February, makes the nearly 700-mile trip up north to Milton High School.
Amongst the 17 killed in the tragedy was Stoneman Douglas alum and beloved assistant football coach Aaron Feis, who heroically shielded students from the gunfire before losing his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (and its surrounding Parkland community) have embodied the same political consciousness of its namesake and inspired people around the globe with their resiliency and collective voice. Within a month of the tragedy (March 9), their combined efforts resulted in a monumental moment of bipartisanship as both houses voted for various gun control measures and Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act that raised the minimum age for buying rifles to 21 and increased funding for school security. Not to be outdone, the advocacy group Never Again MSD (Marjory Stoneman Douglas) organized a nationwide demonstration on March 24 (March For Our Lives).
It's the offseason, but he football community was also quick to step up and offer their support. The Miami Dolphins teamed up with Stoneman Douglas football players to host a free youth football clinic on March 11 and the Miami Hurricanes invited coach May and 10 players to spring practice later the month. Coach
Richt and the Hurricanes are just one of the many colleges planning a tribute to honor the victims and survivors of the Douglas shooting; Miami will on Sept. 2 for its season opener against LSU in Texas.
For May, he sees how much the routine of football has helped his players through their grief and the horror they've experienced.
"It's unbelievable how much [football] helps," Mays told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "It takes their minds off everything else for a minute and they just are back to being kids again, not back to reliving that day.
"People see what they're going through ... and me and the coaches know, we have to be strong through this. ... People are going to watch and see how we handle this, And it's the same thing with [activist] Emma [Gonzalez] and all those kids that are doing what they're doing. They just need to make sure this ain't ever going to happen again. That's their whole deal. They're trying to do just whatever they think possible to keep this from happening again."