As a middle schooler, Jake Lewis did not imagine that quarterbacking his high school football team would be such a high profile position.
“A.C. Flora football wasn’t like a big thing when we were growing up,” said Lewis. “Since we’ve been here, these coaches have totally turned the program around.”
Now, Lewis — in his third game as the Falcons’ starting quarterback — will be leading A.C. Flora against former nationally ranked North Gwinnett (Ga.) in Saturday’s National High School Gridiron Challenge. The game will be broadcast in 13 states on Comcast Sports Southeast.
“Them inviting us, it’s not what I expected when I joined the team,” Lewis said.
The Falcons, 15-21 from 2005-08, have made a U-turn since Dean Howell took over the program in 2009.
In Lewis’ freshman year, the Falcons went 4-6. Lewis said he and his teammates knew they had potential when they went undefeated on the junior varsity as sophomores. That same season, A.C. Flora’s varsity had a school-record 10-2 season.
Wide receiver Schroder Carlton said the Falcons’ expectations began to rise immediately.
“It’s been such a long process and a lot of hard work,” Carlton said. “But I think we have proven we can keep this going.”
Howell said the Falcons’ 13-2 state semifinal 2011 season was enough to earn A.C. Flora an invitation to the three-game event at Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium.
“It’s a good measuring stick,” said Howell.
“I think we’re well respected in the state now,” said Howell, whose team is 2-0 and ranked among the top 10 in Class 3A. “Now it’s time to go play with some big boys and see if we’re as good as we think we are. Exposure like this, they’ve worked hard, and they deserve it.
“They’re a program who has had the standards forever,” he said. “It’s gonna be an honor for our guys to go play on that field and in that stadium because we’re trying to build something like they’ve got.”
With a short history of big success, Carlton said, the Falcons know they must keep reaching higher and higher.
“We still remember where we were, and we don’t want to go back there,” Carlton said.