Moments after finishing pregame warmups Friday night, just before Red Bank and Cleveland football players make their way back to their respective locker rooms for final instructions, veteran Lions assistant Ted Lockerby will seek out an opposing player to give him a hug and wish him luck.
It's an unusual gesture, but this is a unique matchup as Lockerby and his youngest son Camden, a senior linebacker for the Blue Raiders, will spend the 48 minutes of game time after their exchange trying to make each other's night miserable.
"Seeing him on the field in a different color uniform is still hard," Coach Lockerby said. "The good thing is we're both on defense, so when our offense is out there, I can keep an eye on him. I do cheer for him deep inside, but I still want to win.
"You'd like for both defenses to dominate so he can have a good game. Since we're not in the same classification, I cheer for Cleveland every week except for this one. But my job and his job is to win the game, so one of us is going to be pretty unhappy when it's over."
This is the third time the father and son have faced off on opposite sides, so the pregame ritual is already planned. But Coach Lockerby admitted because this will also be the last time, the game carries more significance.
"I get emotional just thinking about it now," said Lockerby, who was an assistant at Tennessee Tech for more than a decade before deciding to coach at the high school level to spend more time with his family, making career stops at Walker Valley, McMinn County and Cleveland before Red Bank, where he is in his sixth season.
When he took the offer to join the Lions, Lockerby's older son Clark came with him and became an all-state linebacker who helped the Lions win back-to-back region titles. However, Camden chose to stay at Cleveland because of the school's wrestling program, where he has been a part of three team state championships with the Blue Raiders.
"Everywhere I've ever worked, Camden and Clark would be at practices and games and on bus rides to away games with me," Lockerby said. "I coached both our boys in every sport they played growing up, so it's been weird not having Camden on the same sideline.
"When we had our off week, I got to go sit in the stands like a regular dad and cheer for him, and I really enjoyed that because it's been really hard not getting to watch him his senior year."
At 5-foot-4, 175 pounds, Camden plays much bigger than his size. He led Cleveland's defense in tackles last year and is the team's leading tackler once again with 49 stops, including three for loss, to help the Blue Raiders to a 4-1 start and the No. 8 state ranking in TSSAA Class 6A.
"I'm not the tallest sucker out there, but I don't think of it as a disadvantage," said Camden, who is also a team captain this season. "I'm quick and pretty strong, so I can hit hard. Plus, being a coach's son, I know how to study film and put myself in the right position to make the play.
"Mentally I'm way more hyped and energetic for this game because I want to show my dad how hard I've worked. We normally talk about the games we have coming up, but we don't talk much this week. It's a house divided.
"Before and after the game, we might joke a little, but once it kicks off, for me I'm just trying to hit whoever has the ball and do what it takes to win. I was pretty upset last year because I knew I would have to see my dad around the house every day knowing we had lost to him."
The teams split the past two meetings, so Friday night will be the rubber match for the Lockerbys. Red Bank, also 4-1, is ranked seventh in Class 4A.
As for the one person in the family's house who is legitimately neutral, Ted's wife and Camden's mother Andrea, there is only one outcome that concerns her.
"Going in, you know there's going to be a winner and a loser, and that's just life," Andrea said. "I'm thankful they're both on the same side of the ball so they're not really going head to head against each other.
"I will wear blue and cheer both ways, but when the game is over I just want us to come together on the field as a family. They already know that Mom has to get that family picture as a memory to save."
Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected] or 423-757-6293.