CHAPEL HILL North Carolina teammates Hakeem Nicks and Ryan Houston insist they haven't been talking too much trash about tonight's showdown rivalry between their high school alma maters.
Nicks graduated from Independence, ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll of N.C. 4A teams. Houston graduated from No. 2 Butler.
They say it all with their eyes.
“We just do a little inside thing, we give each other a little look like, ‘You know what Friday is, man,'” said Houston, a sophomore running back who played at Butler.
Countered Nicks, a junior receiver who never lost at Independence: “He always gives me a look, because he doesn't want to say it, but he knows deep down that Independence is going to win it.”
The two friends, who actually first teamed at Albemarle Road Middle School a decade ago, enjoy the good-natured ribbing almost as much as when they played each other in high school.
Butler never beat Independence when Houston was there – something Nicks doesn't let him forget – but each has fond memories of one of the Carolinas' biggest high school rivalries.
“I had my high school career game against Butler, at Memorial Stadium,” Nicks said, grinning. “I had six catches for 262 receiving yards and three touchdowns. That was my best game in high school, senior year. And I had an interception, and a couple tackles on defense.”
It all overshadowed a pretty good game by Houston, too, who scored two touchdowns in Butler's 41-31 loss.
So the tailback was thrilled when he finally earned a few bragging rights last season, when Butler stunned Independence 21-20 in the regular-season finale.
“Hakeem just gave me a look like, ‘You got us. About time,'” Houston said, grinning. “But then he says, ‘We weren't there.'”
The latter was something Houston repeated to his friend two weeks later, when Independence beat Butler in the second round of the 2007 N.C. 4AA playoffs.
“We've still got that little friendly rivalry going,” Houston said. “… We don't always talk about it – especially now, because we're concentrating on our game against Georgia Tech (on Saturday) – but we just have to look at each other to know it.”