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Stewart unsure if he'll race sprint cars again

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) — For Tony Stewart, there was no greater joy than escaping his everyday life and climbing behind the wheel of a sprint car. He loves the feel, the way they drive, the purity he finds at all the tiny dirt tracks across the country. When he broke his leg racing his sprint car a year ago, an injury that sidelined him for six months, he was almost defiant in his desire to never give up his hobby. But after the death of Kevin Ward Jr., who was killed when Stewart's car struck him as Ward walked on an upstate New York dirt track on Aug. 9, Stewart may never get back in a sprint car. "I would say it's going to be a long time before you ever see me in a sprint car again, if ever. I don't have any desire at this moment to get back in a car," Stewart told The Associated Press in his first interview since a grand jury decided he would not be charged in Ward's death. "If I had the option to go right now to a race, I wouldn't. I don't even know when I'll go to a sprint car race again to watch. I can promise you it's going to be a long time before you ever see me back in one." Sitting on his couch Thursday night in his Huntersville, North Carolina, home, a sprint car race in Arkansas was on mute on his television. Stewart's eyes were constantly drawn to the action. He can't help himself. It's where he came from, how he made his name and the one form of racing he simply couldn't walk away from, even as he was criticized for jeopardizing his lucrative NASCAR career by messing around in the dirt. He just couldn't give it up. Not when he became a multi-millionaire and one of NASCAR's biggest names, not after good friend Jason Leffler was killed in a sprint car race last year, and not after his own injury led to three surgeries, a month in bed and forced him to miss NASCAR races for the first time in his career. Stewart is addicted to the simplicity of sprint car racing, to racing at venues across the country where the crowd is starving for gimmick-free racing. He didn't care that a field full of drivers of varying ages and talent were racing for purses that rarely reach $5,000. He made it his goal to give back to the sprint car community at every turn, especially after his accident. He improved the part that broke and caused his broken leg, and spent $110,000 on firesuits and helmets for nearly 50 drivers who needed updated safety equipment. Stewart even paid for the embroidery on the firesuits. His only request? That his Tony Stewart Racing logo be placed in a position that would not be noticed during interviews. Stewart has been grappling with the decision to leave sprint racing since his 2013 crash at an Iowa dirt track. He'd only returned to sprint car racing one month before Ward's death. "It's hurt for 16 months to sit and be scrutinized for it," said Stewart, "and to try to give back to a sport that you love, and every time you turn around, you've got to constantly defend yourself for doing something and trying to support something that you believe in and care about." Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion, spent three weeks in seclusion at his Indiana home after Ward's death and describes those weeks as the darkest of his life. On the advice of legal counsel, Stewart would not describe what he remembers about the crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, but insists what happened "was 100 percent an accident." Ward and Stewart had been racing for position when Ward crashed, exited his vehicle and walked down the dark track in an apparent attempt to confront Stewart. A toxicology report found Ward also had marijuana in his system. Ward's family has said "the matter is not at rest," and Stewart may still face a civil lawsuit. Stewart wants to discuss the accident, and said not being able to talk about what happened "keeps me from moving forward. It just stays there, hanging over my head. "It's just been a really tough six weeks. I went to go have fun for a night, and that's not what ended up happening." Ward and Stewart didn't know each other, and Stewart doesn't recall them ever talking. He laments that in the scrutiny that followed — some questioned if Stewart had tried to intimidate Ward for stepping on the track — that the loss of the 20-year-old driver and his promising career fell to the background. He said he can't imagine how the Ward family is feeling, doesn't blame them for anything they may say about him, but hopes to someday get the chance to sit with them and talk about that night. "I would hope they understand — maybe they do, maybe they don't, maybe they never will — that I do care," he said. "I've tried to be respectful of their process of grieving and not push myself on them. I'm sure they have things that they want to know what happened and I think it's important for them at some point to hear it from my point." Stewart believes his past — previous eruptions have included him throwing a helmet at another car, shouting and shoving matches, and sharply worded dressing downs — has played heavily into how the public has viewed Ward's death. But he doesn't believe he has a problem with anger, and did not have a problem with Ward that evening. "Anger had nothing to do with what happened that night," Stewart said. "I wasn't angry with anything or anybody." He is back at NASCAR events after missing three races. But when not at the track, he barely leaves his house. A day feels like a month. His mind wanders, his emotions get the best of him. At stake now is a streak of a winning at least one race every year of his Sprint Cup career, and Stewart has just eight more chances this season to get to Victory Lane. It's a mark he can focus on to help his healing, and he insists his heart and his head are up to the challenge. "If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. There's going to be a lot bigger things at the end of my life that are going to matter more than my Cup career," he said. "But you've got to have goals, you've got to have something to push for, you've got to have a reason we do this. "It's nice to have something to focus on again."

  • icon Updated: September 26

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Thursday 09/18/2014
Royal & Ancient votes to admit female members
Updated: September 18, 2014 - 2:46 pm

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews is no longer just for men.

Cooper-Hargreaves duel in Alabama-Florida clash
Updated: September 18, 2014 - 2:31 pm

A look at things to watch in the Southeastern Conference during Week 4 of the season:

GAME OF THE WEEK: Florida at No. 3 Alabama: The Gators lead the nation in turnover margin, and they'll likely need to force more takeaways to have a shot at pulling the upset in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has won its last three meetings with Florida by an average margin of 24 points, and the Tide are favored by 14 ½ points in the latest matchup between two of the SEC's heavyweight programs. This game features a star-studded individual matchup between Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. Cooper leads all Football Bowl Subdivision players with 33 catches and ranks third nationally with 454 yards receiving. Hargreaves is regarded as one of the game's top cover corners.

MATCHUP OF THE WEEK: Arkansas RBs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams vs. Northern Illinois run defense: The Cooper-Hargreaves showdown will command a lot of attention, but Arkansas' attempt to maintain its huge early-season rushing production is also worth noting. Arkansas leads the SEC and ranks third nationally with 362 yards rushing per game. Collins has rushed for 411 yards while averaging 8.2 yards per carry. Williams has run for 322 yards and has gained 9.8 yards per rush. Northern Illinois ranks 13th nationally in run defense.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Nine of the SEC's 14 teams are averaging more than 40 points per game and 12 teams are averaging more than 30. Texas A&M is tops with 54.3 points per game. ... LSU's Travin Dural is averaging more than 30 yards per catch so far this season, which leads the league by a wide margin. ... Kentucky freshman receiver Garrett Johnson caught six passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns against Florida. It's the first time a UK freshman has caught two TD passes in a game since Randall Cobb in 2008.

LONG SHOT: Mississippi State has lost 14 straight games against No. 8 LSU and 21 of 22 dating back to 1992 when the league split into two divisions, but the Bulldogs appear to have one of their better teams in recent memory. Quarterback Dak Prescott ranks fourth in the league in total offense, and Preston Smith has been named the SEC's defensive lineman of the week three consecutive weeks. LSU is 43-3 in night games at Tiger Stadium under coach Les Miles.

IMPACT PLAYER: Missouri's Maty Mauk has thrown 12 touchdown passes, putting him in a three-way tie for the FBS lead with Washington State's Connor Halliday and Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty. The sophomore might have a chance for another big game this weekend when the Tigers host Indiana, which lost 45-42 to Bowling Green last weekend.

_____

Compiled by AP Sports Writers David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi, and Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Wednesday 09/17/2014
Atlanta mayor: Plenty of potential Hawks buyers
Posted: September 17, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — The mayor has already heard from plenty of potential buyers for the Atlanta Hawks.

And the city is ready to kick in a hefty sum to make the deal happen.

Flanked by Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins and other city leaders, Mayor Kasim Reed said Tuesday he expects the sale of the team to move briskly after racially charged comments by owner Bruce Levenson and general manager Danny Ferry.

"I have had conversations with no less than six prospective buyers," Reed said during a City Hall news conference. "All six of those prospective buyers will have to go through a process to be vetted by the NBA. That process is going to occur very quickly."

The Hawks have been under fire since it was revealed Levenson sent an email two years ago theorizing that many suburban whites would not attend NBA games because of the team's African-American fans. He agreed to sell his share of the team, but it also emerged that Ferry had disparaged then-free agent Luol Deng on a conference call with team owners this past summer, saying he "has a little African in him."

Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence.

The NBA, meanwhile, is left to deal with another embarrassing case after stripping the Los Angeles Clippers from longtime owner Donald Sterling. He was forced out for telling his girlfriend on a secretly recorded audio not to bring black fans to his games.

Reed said he plans to meet with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Sept. 26 in New York to discuss the sale of the Hawks. According to the mayor, the league is already lining up an investment bank to look into the finances of any potential buyer.

"I think we're going to end up in a superior position, based on everything we know today, than we were before," Reed said.

He didn't identify the prospective buyers, but whoever steps in would apparently have majority ownership. Levenson owns 24 percent of the team, and his Washington partner, Ed Peskowitz, has also agreed to sell his share, meaning that 50.1 percent of the team is now available, Reed said.

In addition, Reed said the city will likely be willing to offer concessions to any new owner to ensure the Hawks commit to remaining in Atlanta for another 30 years. He said there could be as much as $150 million available after the city sells Turner Field, the current home of the Braves, though the mayor said that process has been held up by the baseball team's refusal to negotiate terms for its departure.

The Braves are planning to move to a new stadium in suburban Cobb County in 2017.

Team spokeswoman Beth Marshall said the Braves aren't required to notify the stadium authority of its plans until Dec. 31, 2015, but added, "It is our hope to be able to work with them, the city of Atlanta and Fulton County, on negotiating an exit so they can best prepare for the future of the Turner Field site."

In the meantime, Reed said the city would be heavily involved in efforts to find new ownership for the Hawks, since it is responsible for the debt on 15-year-old Philips Arena.

Wilkins, a former Hawks star who now serves as a team vice president and television commentator, said he would "absolutely" be interested in taking on a greater role with the franchise. The city already plans to honor him with a statue outside Philips Arena before a March 6 game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Reed said city leaders would look favorably on Wilkins' involvement with any new ownership group, especially if it gives the team more diversity in the front office.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin has refused calls to fire Ferry, saying he believes the general manager can learn from the experience. Ferry met privately Monday with civil rights leaders, hoping to mend fences within the city, and has said he will undergo sensitivity training during his leave.

But Ferry's future is still very much in doubt, with the start of training camp only two weeks away.

Wilkins would neither endorse Ferry nor call for him to be ousted, knowing that any decision about the general manager will likely rest with the new owner.

"That's not a choice I can make," Wilkins said. "The only thing I can say is whatever pieces are put in place are going to be the right pieces to help our franchise heal from what we've been through."

___

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Tuesday 09/16/2014
Braves' new stadium has a name - SunTrust Park
Posted: September 16, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Braves new suburban stadium already has a name — SunTrust Park.

Friday 09/12/2014
Sponsors keep close watch on NFL investigation
Posted: September 12, 2014

Major brand sponsors are watching closely to make sure the National Football League doesn't fumble the investigation into how its executives handled evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence case.

For big companies like Anheuser-Busch, General Motors and Procter & Gamble, an NFL sponsorship is a coveted prize. The deals can cost up to $10 million per brand, but they deliver eyeballs. An average of 17.4 million viewers watched professional football games during the 2013 season, according to Nielsen.

Now that the NFL is investigating how its executives handled a video showing Baltimore running back Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancee, sponsors are forced to balance the exposure NFL games offer with the risk of alienating customers.

On Wednesday, the NFL said it hired former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller to lead the investigation. League Commissioner Roger Goodell previously said no one at the NFL had seen the video before it surfaced on Monday, but the AP reported Wednesday that a law enforcement official sent the tape to the organization in April.

With the investigation just beginning, experts say there is little else sponsors can do but wait and see.

"These situations often develop and change direction very rapidly, so sponsors need to be incredibly agile," said Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates. "What's true right now may not be true in two hours, so (sponsors) will have to monitor how the NFL reacts, and then how consumers react to the reactions."

When a scandal hits an individual athlete, brands usually move swiftly to cut ties. Nike severed its relationship with Rice after the video surfaced. Video game maker Electronic Arts said it would scrub Rice's image from its latest Madden 15 release.

But no sponsor company has said it will end its relationship with the NFL — yet.

"Obviously all the sponsors are incredibly worried, but it's hard for a sponsor to disconnect from the entire NFL. It's so important to business," said Atlanta-based marketing consultant Laura Ries. "If Roger Goodell had any sponsors, he'd probably lose those, but there's no one person attached to this."

TD Ameritrade said the company has received little reaction from clients about its NFL sponsorship, which it just announced last week.

"This incident brings to light a disturbing act that we believe is wrong, and while the NFL has, admittedly, not done everything right, we hope that it will quickly learn from its mistakes and work to improve a culture that values the inclusion, safety and respect of its employees and their families," the company said in a statement. "This means holding people fully accountable for their actions and the consequences associated with them."

TD Ameritrade and the NFL announced a three-year sponsorship deal on Sept. 4. The online brokerage said it is not making changes but added that "as with any sponsorship, media buy, etc., we carefully monitor the effect it has on our business and brand, and if we feel those assets are being compromised, we'll make the appropriate decisions."

General Motors, a sponsor since 2001, has no plans to change its advertising on NFL games because of the Rice case, said spokeswoman Ryndee Carney.

Carney said she was not aware of the company receiving complaints about its football advertising. GM said it supports the NFL's decision to conduct an investigation. "We will continue to monitor future developments regarding this issue," Carney said.

FedEx also said it is monitoring the situation.

"We are watching developments in this matter closely and we are confident that the League will take the appropriate steps," said Patrick Fitzgerald, senior vice president of marketing and communications at FedEx.

PepsiCo said it was encouraged to see that the NFL "is now treating this with the seriousness it deserves."

Other large NFL sponsors, such as Anheuser-Busch and Procter & Gamble, did not respond to requests to comment or declined to comment.

For now, analysts don't expect a big change in viewership during NFL games.

"Games will go on and fans will — for the most part — want to watch," Ries said.

Tuesday 09/09/2014
Hawks discipline GM Ferry for racist comments
Posted: September 09, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — The fallout from racially charged comments by Atlanta Hawks' leadership continued on Tuesday as general manager Danny Ferry was disciplined for making inflammatory comments about Luol Deng.

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin has imposed undisclosed discipline on Ferry for comments the GM made to the ownership group in June when the team pursued Deng as a free agent.

Atlanta media outlets obtained a letter Monday night from Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. which cites Ferry telling the ownership group that Deng "has a little African in him."

Gearon's letter to co-owner Bruce Levenson said Ferry went on to say, "Not in a bad way, but he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.

"Ferry completed the racial slur by describing the player (and impliedly all persons of African descent) as a two-faced liar and cheat."

In the letter, Gearon recommended that Ferry resign or be fired.

Gearon said he and the other co-owners "were appalled that anyone would make such a racist slur under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference call."

Gearon declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Tuesday and Deng's agent, Ron Shade, could not be immediately reached.

Hawks spokesman Garin Narain said the team's investigation of Ferry's comments uncovered a racially inflammatory email written two years ago by Levenson. That discovery led to Levenson's announcement Sunday that he will sell his controlling share of the team.

Ferry apologized Tuesday but said he was only repeating comments he had heard about Deng.

"In regards to the insensitive remarks that were used during our due diligence process, I was repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players," Ferry said in a statement released by the team.

"I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process. Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I apologize to those I offended and to Luol, who I reached out to Monday morning."

In his letter to Levenson, Gearon compared Ferry's remarks to comments made former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was forced to sell the team this year when his racist comments were disclosed.

"We believe these comments by Ferry were far worse than Sterling's because they were not from a private personal conversation — they were in a business environment on a business matter in front of a dozen or more people," Gearon wrote. "If Ferry would make such a slur in a semi-public forum, we can only imagine what he has said in smaller groups or to individuals."

Gearon also said in the letter that he wanted to point out Ferry's comments to Levenson because he wasn't sure Levenson was listening to the full conference call. Gearon said his belief, confirmed by his consultations with two attorneys, was the fallout from Ferry's comments could be "devastating."

Gearon warned Levenson he believed Ferry's comments "could be fatal to the franchise" if made public.

In his letter of apology, Ferry pledged he would learn from the incident.

"I am committed to learning from this and deeply regret this situation," Ferry said. "I fully understand we have work to do in order to help us create a better organization; one that our players and fans will be proud of, on and off the court, and that is where my focus is moving forward."

What we learned at US Open: New guys can win Slams
Updated: September 09, 2014 - 3:57 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Suspended at this time in 2013, Marin Cilic showed at the 2014 U.S. Open that he could win a Grand Slam title.

Kei Nishikori proved that he can come very close.

And Cilic hopes the last 15 days made clear there are players that casual fans might not be familiar with who are capable of doing these things, too.

"It's, I feel, very inspirational for all the other guys out there who are working and sometimes losing motivation, having trouble to dig deep and to believe in the achievements," the 25-year-old Cilic said. "I would definitely feel much stronger if I would see somebody like me accomplish things like this. It sort of came out of nowhere for me."

The 14th-seeded and 16th-ranked Cilic's 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Nishikori in the final at Flushing Meadows on Monday made him the first player in a decade to win a major championship while ranked outside the top 10. (His victory pushed him up to No. 9).

It also made him only the second man from Croatia to earn a Grand Slam singles title; his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, won Wimbledon in 2001.

Cilic did it by winning his last 10 sets against four opponents who had beaten him in a combined 19 of 24 matches coming in: Gilles Simon in the fourth round, Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, Roger Federer in the semifinals, and Nishikori in the final.

"Something clicked in his head," Ivanisevic said. "To play like that against Berdych, to play against Federer — that was just art of tennis."

Japan's Nishikori was trying to become the first man from any Asian country to join the major singles champion club in tennis. Even if he didn't quite manage to do that, the 24-year-old Nishikori did demonstrate that he has the stuff to contend by eliminating three of the top five seeded men: No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka and No. 5 Milos Raonic.

"Sorry I couldn't get a trophy today," Nishikori said, "but for sure, next time."

After testing positive for a stimulant he said he ingested through a glucose tablet from a pharmacy, Cilic wound up serving a four-month ban last year that was reduced on appeal. Rankings points and prize money initially taken away from him were restored.

He now credits that enforced absence with giving him time to work on his game alongside Ivanisevic — and for making him tougher.

"Trying to enjoy on the court and enjoy every moment ... helped me to be much more relaxed," Cilic said.

Here are other things we learned during the year's last Grand Slam tournament:

BIG 3: This was the first Grand Slam final since the 2005 Australian Open that didn't involve at least one of Djokovic, Federer or Rafael Nadal (whose right wrist injury prevented him from trying to defend his 2013 U.S. Open title). That trio also had won 34 of the last 38 major titles. Only one other man, Andy Murray, even won two in that span. It should be fascinating to see how that group manages to regroup in January.

SERENA's 18TH: Serena Williams has joked about trying to keep up with Federer in the Grand Slam title count. Well, she surpassed his total of 17 by winning her 18th major championship Sunday at the U.S. Open with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Caroline Wozniacki in the final. Williams is now even with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova at 18, and only three women have more: Helen Wills Moody with 19, Steffi Graf with an Open-era record 22, and Margaret Court with 24. For now, Williams said, her aim is to get to 19, but if "I get to 19, knowing me, 20 will be my goal."

ANYONE ELSE?: Williams won all 14 of her sets, never ceding more than three games in any, but otherwise the women's tournament was filled with surprises, including early losses by highly seeded players such as Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep. So can anyone challenge Williams when she is at her best? "I think she's eager and she's strong," Navratilova said, "and there's nobody nipping at her heels."

___

AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen contributed to this report.

___

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Friday 09/05/2014
Rockmart recreation soccer opens season on Saturday
Posted: September 05, 2014

The Rockmart Recreation Department will be starting up their fall soccer play on Saturday with a parade downtown and games throughout the morning, according to recreation director Jeff Hulsey. 

Cedartown, Rockmart on the road for football tonight
Posted: September 05, 2014

Polk County's football teams are hitting the road tonight for their second week of games as one team heads to Whitfield County and the other to Gordon County. 

Thursday 09/04/2014
Harbin Clinic’s Zombie-thon 5K & Health Walk registration is open
Posted: September 04, 2014

On Saturday, October 25, Zombies return to downtown Rome for Harbin Clinic’s Zombie-thon 5K & Apocalyptic Block Party where runners and walkers brave the wave of the Zombie Apocalypse and try to survive!

Wednesday 09/03/2014
Cedartown youth football kicks off in Rome Saturday
Posted: September 03, 2014

The start of the youth football season for junior pee wee, pee wee and mites football is set for this coming Saturday with a jamboree in Rome.

ACC teams matching up with more nickel defenses
Posted: September 03, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Defenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference aren't waiting for passing situations to bring on another defensive back.

Instead, they're starting with the nickel package.

It's an effort to cover more ground and avoid mismatches against offenses that keep flooding the field with receivers and attacking from sideline to sideline without substituting.

Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are using a 4-2-5 — four linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs — as their base scheme and the starting point for what they do every week.

Other teams are using the nickel heavily, including reigning national champion Florida State.

Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof says the game has evolved, and now defenses are trying to match up and disguise coverages with the nickel.

Friday 08/29/2014
Cedartown, Rockmart kick off football seasons at home in Polk County
Posted: August 29, 2014

The Cedartown Bulldogs and Rockmart Yellow Jackets are both hosting for this first night of high school football in Polk County. 

Thursday 08/28/2014
Cedartown flag football signup deadline extended to Sept. 8
Posted: August 28, 2014

The Cedartown Parks and Recreation Department has extended the deadline for signups in youth flag football and cheerleading to September 8.

Alabama's Saban faces boyhood team, West Virginia
Posted: August 28, 2014

Growing up in West Virginia, Nick Saban would peek through the rails at the old WVU Fieldhouse as Jerry West played basketball far below.

Watching West Virginia play football, meanwhile, "was like the highlight of my year," Saban said.

When Saban leads No. 2 Alabama against the Mountaineers in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, his priority as always on fall Saturdays will be to win a football game — even against his home state program.

He seemed to enjoy waxing nostalgic this week about his favorite boyhood team in memories that include the heartache of listening to his transistor radio when West and the Mountaineers fell 71-70 — yes, Saban remembers the score — to California in the 1959 national championship game.

"You don't forget stuff like that," Saban said, "but now I'm Alabama's coach. I'm an Alabama fan. We don't really have to be concerned about any of that. We want to do what's best for our team and the relationships that we have here.

"But we also respect their traditions and the relationships that we've developed through the years in West Virginia."

Those ties will be evidenced by friends and family traveling to Atlanta for the game, people who say they saw Saban's potential way back when.

That group includes U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a former West Virginia governor, who grew up less than 10 miles away from the Sabans and still calls him "one of my best friends in the whole world."

Manchin played on youth sports teams coached by Saban's father, Nick Sr., who also operated a service station while running an ice cream shop/restaurant with his wife in front of their modest home just outside Monongah. Nick Sr., Manchin said, "was a builder of men" and his son was always there soaking it in when he wasn't helping out by washing cars or pumping gas.

"He had all the genes for it and he had the tutelage of his father, who was very rigid and stoic about how he did things," Manchin recalled. "You just saw the success come. He saw it by hard work, sacrificing, planning. He knew what it took to succeed, and Nick took it to the next level.

"I always thought he would be the greatest football coach, I believe, in the country today and will go down in history as one of the greatest. And it's all because of that coal-mining town."

Nick Sr. died of a heart attack in 1973 when the undersized Saban, spurned by the Mountaineers, was playing baseball and football at Kent State.

Both Manchin and Saban played quarterback in high school. Manchin graduated from Farmington High in 1965, Saban from Monongah High in 1969.

"The biggest mistake WVU ever made was not offering young Nick Saban a scholarship," said Manchin, whose West Virginia career was ended early by a knee injury. "He was one of the best athletes to ever come out of the area. His size gave them pause to ever offer him a scholarship."

Sharing childhood memories weren't the only time Saban showed a lighter side leading up to this game. He also challenged Manchin and others, including Florida coach Will Muschamp, to participate in the ice bucket challenge that's gone viral in efforts to raise funds to fight Lou Gehrig's disease.

Manchin's wife, Gayle, dumped the senator with ice water.

Manchin said this game is one instance where he'll be rooting against Saban.

Not so for Saban's sister, Dianna Thompson, who lives in the Marion County community of Worthington and has had three kids graduate from West Virginia.

"That's a no brainer: Roll Tide," Thompson said. She has to pull for the man she's always called "Brother."

"When West Virginia's playing anybody else, we cheer for West Virginia," she said. "But we can't cheer against Brother."

If Saban had his way as a teenager, Saturday's game wouldn't just be against his old favorite team. He'd be facing his alma mater.

"He really wanted to go to WVU but they wouldn't give him a scholarship," Thompson said. "They told him he could walk on but he got a scholarship to Kent State, so he went to Kent State. He would have gone to WVU if he had been offered a scholarship there."

Clemson-Georgia game highlights SEC's first week
Posted: August 28, 2014

A look at things to watch in the Southeastern Conference during Week 1 of the season:

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia. One year ago, these two teams provided one of the best opening-weekend matchups in a game Clemson won 38-35. Georgia has the home-field advantage in Saturday's rematch, which again has as much intrigue as just about any first-week game across the nation. This game could come down to whether Clemson's defense can slow down Georgia running back Todd Gurley and whether Georgia's offensive line can keep Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley away from Bulldogs quarterback Hunter Mason. Georgia is 36-1 in home nonconference games since 2001.

BEST MATCHUP: Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn. The Razorbacks travel to face the Tigers in a game most notable for the chilly relationship between coaches Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn. Bielema is an unapologetic basher of the hurry-up offense, claiming it leads to more injuries — while few push the offensive pace like Malzahn. The Razorbacks are clearly longshots in this matchup, coming off a 0-8 record in the SEC last season, but they would love nothing more than to spoil Auburn's opener after the Tigers played for a national title last season.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Only five of the SEC's 14 members have quarterbacks who started the majority of games for their respective teams last season. Those five teams are Arkansas (Brandon Allen), Auburn (Nick Marshall), Mississippi (Bo Wallace), Mississippi State (Dak Prescott) and Tennessee (Justin Worley). Wallace's 6,340 career passing yards lead active league QBs by a wide margin.

LONG SHOT: Tennessee has more overall talent than six-point underdog Utah State, but the Aggies enter Sunday's season opener with more experience and the better quarterback in Chuckie Keeton, who is making his first appearance since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament midway through last season. "All you have to do is put their film on," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "If you know anything about football, then you say this is a really, really good football team." The youth of Tennessee's roster makes this game hard to predict. If Utah State grabs an early lead, how will all the newcomers on Tennessee's roster respond?

IMPACT PLAYER: LSU running back Leonard Fournette is only a freshman, but expectations for the highly-regarded recruit are through the roof. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from New Orleans is already generating Heisman Trophy talk down in Louisiana. While that may be premature, he has a chance to make a big impression when the No. 13 Tigers host No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday. Said Miles: "He's going to want the opportunity to do everything that he can do. And certainly he'll play a role in this game."

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AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Oxford, Mississippi, contributed to this story.

Wednesday 08/27/2014
Many ACC teams set to open with unproven QBs
Posted: August 27, 2014

There's plenty of buzz around the Atlantic Coast Conference with the addition of a new team, the latest Heisman Trophy winner and the reigning national champion.

Top-ranked Florida State's run to the national title and the arrival of fast-rising Louisville have raised the ACC's national profile.

But the strength of the league as a whole this season could depend on the arms of numerous unproven commodities at quarterback — besides Jameis Winston, the Seminoles' Heisman winner, of course.

At least 10 schools will debut new starting QBs this week, including three transfers and a pair of true freshmen.

Those concerns might be unfounded, new Clemson starter Cole Stoudt said.

"According to some of the guys, we're not going to get a first down," said Stoudt, who is replacing three-year starter Tajh Boyd.

"I think people are going to be shocked by what we're going to do," he added. "People are underestimating what we have, looking at all the negatives instead of the positives we have."

The numbers perhaps tell a different story: According to STATS, only nine current ACC quarterbacks have made at least one career start — and three of them made those starts at other schools.

Only one ACC QB — Duke's Anthony Boone — ever started a game for his current school before last season.

And no one in the league has made more career starts than Winston — all 14 of his came during his big redshirt freshman season in 2013.

A major subplot this season will be whether the ACC can produce a serious challenger for the Seminoles — and along with that, whether there's another elite quarterback in the league who can make his team a legitimate threat to Florida State.

Boone says the league "absolutely" needs another quarterback to step up and challenge Winston — and naturally, he hopes he'll be the one to do it.

The Duke quarterback said he hung around with Winston over the summer at the Manning Passing Academy and the Heisman winner told him "I'll see you in Charlotte" for a rematch in the ACC championship game.

"As a competitor, you want to be the best on your team, you want to be the best in your league," Boone said. "If somebody told me that I can challenge (Winston), that's fine with me."

The league's only other returning full-time starter is Terrel Hunt of Syracuse. North Carolina is still deciding between Marquise Williams — who started six games last season due to injuries to regular starter Bryn Renner — and redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky.

David Watford started all 12 games of Virginia's 2-10 finish last year. But backup Greyson Lambert, a redshirt sophomore, beat Watford for the starting job with all of 75 college passes on his resume.

"His pass attempts have been more than nine of the likely starters to be named starters" in the ACC, coach Mike London said. "There is an experience that this year, this team, that the quarterbacks do have."

Plenty of other first-time starters also will get their chance this weekend.

Two transfers from Florida — Jacoby Brissett at North Carolina State and Tyler Murphy at Boston College — are pegged to start their new teams' openers along with ex-Texas Tech backup Michael Brewer, who's now at Virginia Tech.

Brissett, who made four total starts for the Gators in 2011 and '12, promised to "just make sure I don't mess up the first snap."

At Miami, true freshman Brad Kaaya beat out another transfer — Jake Heaps, formerly of BYU and Kansas. And John Wolford will become the first true freshman QB since 1974 to start a Wake Forest opener.

"He is our best quarterback, so I can't worry about whether he's a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior," new Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. "In a perfect world, you'd always love to have the guy be in the system for one or two years before he plays. But we're going to put the guys out there that give us the best chance to win. And he clearly won the job."

Now, it's time for all those new quarterbacks to show they can win games.

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AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina; Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Will Graves in Pittsburgh; and Hank Kurz Jr. in Charlottesville, Virginia, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday 08/26/2014
Swinney: Suspended Clemson players out vs Georgia
Posted: August 26, 2014

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says the three players suspended for the 16th-ranked Tigers' opener at No. 12 Georgia, including returning starters defensive end Corey Crawford and offensive lineman David Beasley, won't get a reprieve from their one-game punishments.

Swinney suspended Crawford, Beasley, backup cornerback Garry Peters and reserve offensive lineman Shaq Anthony in March for undisclosed violation of team rules. Last week, Anthony announced his intentions to transfer.

Swinney says all had worked hard and shown good character since March. But the coach says there are consequences for their actions.

Crawford, a senior, would've started opposite All-American end Vic Beasley. David Beasley started seven games along the offensive line.

Swinney says the three will be allowed to travel with the team to Georgia if they want.

Monday 08/25/2014
Loran Smith column: Remembering Dan Magill
Posted: August 25, 2014

Our ritual of having a beer a couple of times a week became a challenge because of travel. Sometimes, I just couldn’t keep from being out of town on Monday, the day Dan Magill preferred to enjoy a late afternoon libation at our favorite watering hole in Five Points.

Saturday 08/23/2014
Bulldogs to host Dragons for alumni fundraiser game
Posted: August 23, 2014

Cedartown and Pepperell alumni football players will be squaring off for a matchup at Cedartown High School this evening.

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