Last June, former LaFayette High School standout and current Valdosta State University player Gage Smith shot a pair of back-to-back 66's and got a birdie on the 36th and final hole to win the LaFayette Chicken Dinner Golf Tournament for the first time.

He's in similar situation a year later.

Smith had a frontside 34 and followed up with a backside 33 on Saturday to card a 5-under-par 67 on the first day of the 84th Chicken Dinner Tournament at the LaFayette Golf Course. However, unlike last year when he enjoyed a one-shot lead going into the second and final round, Smith has got some company at the top.

Three more golfers also fired 67's on Saturday, including Thomas Looney, Dalton State golfer Matthew Cleary and current LaFayette High golfer Grant Langford.

Ex-Trion High standout John Rollins is a stroke back at 68, while Jeremy Willis, Ty Cole and local golfer Ethan Dendy are all two strokes in back of the lead at 69, while Levi Shelton and two-time tournament winner Shonn Weldon are tied for ninth at 70.

Trevor Owens, Dawson Day, Tyler Jackson and Byron Reed are all at 71. Day is a former two-time state individual champion at Trion, who just completed a third team All-American senior year at Truett-McConnell, while Jackson is graduating from LaFayette High and will play collegiately at Cleveland State (Tenn.).

A group at even-par 72 contains more familiar names, including Randy Yoder, Chicken Dinner veteran Tyler Maynor, LaFayette High alums Keaton Stanfield and Rob Neal and Gordon Lee alum Lanier Guest.

A total of 77 golfers teed off on Saturday. The first group will begin their second and final round at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, while the final group of the day will begin their rounds at 12:30 p.m.

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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