Glenn Vickery knows Bart Sessions well. Most every day of the year he considers him a friend.
Friday, for three hours or so, that will all change when the two meet in what is easily the biggest game of the regular season in South Alabama when Vickery's Daphne (Ala.) High squad takes on Sessions' Mobile (Ala.) McGill-Toolen team.
"I genuinely root for Bart to succeed," Vickery said. "But come Friday night we will be looking to hand him his first loss as a head coach."
Vickery is the veteran coach at Daphne, ranked No. 13 in this week's RivalsHigh 100.
Sessions is the first year coach at Mobile (Ala.) McGill-Toolen, which is ranked in the Top 5 in Alabama and receiving consideration for national rankings.
Sessions worked under Vickey for four seasons at Mobile (Ala.) Davidson. After a few seasons apart, Sessions returned to Daphne last year and helped the team win a state title before taking over at McGill-Tollen.
"Our defense last year was easily the best in the Southeast region," Vickery said. "It may have been the best in the country at the end of the year."
Sessions, who was his defensive coordinator, agreed. And he knows the unit is just as strong this year, too.
"It will be tough this week," he said. "I know first hand how talented they are. Scoring on them will be tough."
It is a toughness that he helped instill at Daphne and has brought across the Bay with him to the Catholic school power.
He also brought four other former Daphne coaches in the hope of elevating an already strong program.
"Coach Vickery is a great coach of coaches," Sessions said. "I got to see him build Davidson from 2-8 to 9-1. I learned how to treat kids, treat parents, media. He let me make my mistakes and told me how to grow from them."
Now he is taking those lessons and applying them.
McGill-Toolen is 8-0. It beat nearby rival, Fairhope (Ala.) School, early in the season en route to its hot start.
Now Sessions knows more about his kids and how to prepare for this game.
"We are more blue-collar and they are more blue-chip," he said. "It isn't like our cupboard is bare over here, but they are pretty loaded. They certainly have more in the barrel than we do right now."
Yeldon is ranked as the No. 4 running back in the country (No. 34 player overall) by Rivals.com.
His coach thinks that is respectable, but low.
"If he isn't ranked as a five-star player then those folks are missing the boat," Vickery said. "He can go inside, he can outrun people, he can make them miss, but his best attribute is being a competitor. I have seen talented kids that don't like to compete and T.J gives it his all."
Yeldon was splitting time at receiver and running back last year. This season he is the focal point of the offense and it is paying dividends.
He is now also the focal point of the McGill-Toolen defensive playbook.
"We have to slow him down," Sessions said. "You can probably forget about stopping him because that isn't likely to happen. So limit what he can do is the goal."
A limited goal that not many have been able to accomplish in the last two years. Daphne is now pushing toward back-to-back state titles and a back-to-back Top-15 finish in the national rankings.
"We stress it to our kids all the time," Vickery said. "A lot of eyes are on us and we need to be getting better at this point in the season. In two weeks it is win or go home. There are teams out there that think they can just turn it on when the playoffs come and those teams will be dribbling a basketball soon."
This game would not be the RivalsHigh Game of the Week if it was a forgone conclusion.
Vickery knows he and his team will have to be ready to stop an explosive offense with a young-but-talented quarterback.
"Jason Smith is a lot like Pat White was," Vickery said. "And when you say Pat White down in these parts, it is like saying Mickey Mantle. So we are talking about a rare talent."
Sessions thinks that his signal-caller is still a raw, rare talent.
"Pat White is a natural comparison," he said. "He is very talented, but he is still learning. He can make the big plays, but he is just starting to be able to bounce back from the negative plays and lead a team. That is the next step for him."
It is a step that could be quickly taken in pulling the upset.
"We don't know what these guys are going to do when the stands are packed and it is loud and things go against us," Sessions said.
The young coach, this time, won't have his mentor and friend to call on for advice.
"I can't help him with that one," Vickery said.
"It's South Alabama football," he said. "We have to go after them and then worry about being friends on Saturday."
When: Friday Oct. 21, 7:00 p.m.
Last Meeting: Oct. 22, 2010 - Daphne won, 43-21
Rankings: Daphne (8-0), No. 1 in Alabama
McGill-Toolen (8-0), No. 5 in Alabama
Daphne wins if: It controls the ball. Playing keep away with the football and feeding T.J. Yeldon will frustrate the Yellowjackets and keep the Daphne defense fresh. That will key this game as the McGill-Toolen offense may be more balanced but less explosive. If Daphne establishes the run and moves the chains on long drives it will break the spirit of the younger McGill-Toolen team.
McGill-Toolen wins if: It wins the turnover battle and keeps it close until late. The longer the Yellowjackets can stay in the ballgame the better - and while that sounds obvious, it is because the majority of the leaders of the team are in the junior class and the maturity has not come along just yet. Getting down early can make it hard for growth potential. The team will need to effectively use the combination of Trey Roberts and Smith to control the ground and the pace of the game.
Prediction: The best game for McGill-Toolen was a sloppy weather win over Fairhope. And while a burst of cold rain may be able to slow T.J. Yeldon, it will be up to the defense to do a better job. Daphne has developed a solid passing game behind junior quarterback TJ Fleeton this year and it can exploit a defense that could be focused too much on the run. Daphne has the mature talent on the field and that will win out as the Trojans are poised for another state title. - Daphne 36, McGill-Toolen 24.
Game of the Week Predictions: 7-2 (10-5 in '10, '09, and '08)