When the Georgia Bulldogs face off against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship some graduates of Forsyth County high schools get to see it firsthand and also take part in on-field activities.
“I feel so grateful to be able to have the opportunity to go to the national championship game,” said Abigail Wagner, a 2016 graduate from Forsyth Central and a member of UGA color guard. “Color guard has provided me with so many unique experiences, and I never imagined being able to travel to places like California for the Rose Bowl and to see the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and to experience the Dawgs win this season.”
Both teams earned their spot in the game on New Year’s Day.
The Bulldogs defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 54-48 in the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, California in the first game to overtime in the game’s 104-year history.
Later that evening, Alabama rolled over the Clemson Tigers in New Orleans’ Sugar Bowl, making way for an all-SEC championship and the first meeting between the schools since 2015.
When the teams square off, Wagner won’t be the only Central color guard alum performing on Monday. Allison Hayman, a 2017 graduate, will perform with Georgia’s Redcoat Band while Ashley Jeter, who graduated in 2014, will be opposite her former teammates in the color guard for Alabama’s Million Dollar Band.
“We are close in real life, like we’ve been friends all through high school and we’re still friends today,” Jeter said. “It’s super exciting that I get to see them and we might get pictures in the stands or something together and see each other’s shows because we never play Georgia.”
Hayman said UGA’s color guard was back hard at work this week to get ready for the game.
“We have a couple of rehearsals going on, so we have one [on Thursday] and [Friday.] Then, I think we’ll be performing when we get to Atlanta on Friday,” she said. “[We are] kind of just keeping up the grind and keeping things fresh and looking even better.”
Also participating is 2015 South Forsyth High School graduate Cassie Koes, a Georgia cheerleader who found out Wednesday she would be cheering for the game.
“Finding out that I was picked to go cheer was really special,” Koes said. “I get to be part of something historic, special [and] hopefully celebratory.”
The UGA students had some unique experiences when going to the Rose Bowl, including media appearances, going to Disney Land and participating in the Rose Parade.
“It was a five-mile parade and we had to do lots of preparation physically and mentally, but our hard work paid off,” Wagner said.
Koes said cheerleaders had to get up at 3 a.m. for the Rose Bowl festivities, and fellow cheerleader Rilee Racine, a 2014 North Forsyth High School graduate, said the game was one of the most intense she had ever seen until running back Sony Michel ran in the game-winning touchdown.
“I think I aged 10 years, but it was so worth it to come home with the win,” Racine said. “We were all watching the play and it was kind of hard to see most of the game, but luckily he was right at our end zone … I actually didn’t even see him cross into the end zone before I was tackled. It was just a big dogpile, at least for the cheerleaders.”
While this is Georgia’s first time making the playoff, Alabama has made it every year that Jeter has been at the school, including the team’s championship in 2015.
“We have had a playoff berth the last four years that I’ve been here, so I’ve got to experience the different cities and it’s been a great experience,” she said.
Jeter said her first game as a student was at the Georgia Dome and it is fitting to end it at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. She is also taking the high road on any trash talk from her home state.
“I really don’t do much of the trash talking. I just say, ‘Roll Tide’ and keep going because both teams are actually amazing,” Jeter said.
Racine, also a senior, said she is expecting Monday to be another long day like the Rose Bowl but is thrilled to be a part of the game.
“I am ecstatic,” Racine said. “I just can’t believe how lucky I am to be a senior and to be able to cheer all four years with these [football] seniors who have stuck around when they could have gone to the draft. Just to see them succeed and for us to be a part of it is amazing to finish our last year like that.”