It has been seven years since Stone Bridge senior quarterback Sean Ryan lived in Warrenton, where as a young boy he would attend football and basketball games between Fauquier and Liberty High Schools. The impression that the rivalry between those two schools made, however, has not diminished.
Nor, he said, has he ever seen it matched.
"Growing up, I watched them from the time Liberty was first built" in 1994, Ryan said. "And I remember from that very first year when Liberty opened that every Fauquier-Liberty game you went to was just packed. It was crazy.
"You don't feel that same kind of excitement around here . . . and it stinks."
The intensity of the Fauquier-Liberty rivalry -- which will be renewed again tomorrow night when the Eagles host the Falcons in the season-opening football game for each school -- is easy to pinpoint. The two schools not only are about 10 miles apart, they also are the only two high schools in Fauquier County.
"Fauquier went for 30 years with only one high school, so as soon as Liberty opened the rivalry was born," Liberty Athletic Director Jerry Carter said. "From the day it opened, the first girls' basketball game was huge, [as was] the first boys' basketball game and certainly the first football game. We never sell out our gym or get to standing room only on the field unless we're playing Fauquier."
The income generated from such crowds is a big part of the reason why Fauquier and Liberty remain two of the only football teams in the Washington area that meet twice during the regular season, in both the season-opener and season finale. Carter said the two schools split the proceeds from each gate, and typically make at least double what they would for any other contest.
"The whole community just gets hyped when we play, because the schools are just right around the corner from each other," Liberty standout junior defensive end Aaron Hull said. "And it's not even just playing for bragging rights. . . . It's like a county championship every time we see them."
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that many of the players were actually teammates in middle school. Of the four middle schools in the county, two feed directly into either Fauquier or Liberty. The other two high school student bodies are divided between the two middle schools.
"That's part of what makes this such a natural rivalry," Falcons football coach Tom Ferrell said. "A lot of these kids have been teammates before, and that just makes it more fun for them to play against one another now. I don't remember a game against Liberty when it wasn't a full house. The fans get into it, the players get into it. Then after the game they go back to being neighbors."
Carter said that idea was best exemplified during the 2001 season, when Liberty lineman Brandon Gore, an All-Met who now plays at Virginia Tech, and Fauquier quarterback John-Michael Rosch competed.
"It was one of the neatest things to see those two guys -- big ol' Brandon Gore and little John-Michael Rosch -- hugging each other after the game," Carter said. "They were two outstanding players and fought each other like cats and dogs on the field. But when the game was over they were best friends again."
That kind of across-the-board enthusiasm generated whenever Fauquier and Liberty meet is unmatched in Loudoun County, where fast growth and development has seen the number of high schools double in recent years with the openings of Potomac Falls (1997), Stone Bridge (2000), Heritage (2002) and Dominion (2003). Two new schools -- Briar Woods and Freedom -- are set to open in 2005.
"The same kids aren't even at the same school every year because new schools open and new boundaries are always being set," Ryan said. "At Stone Bridge, there are some rivalries that develop in each sport, but it's not like there's just that one school that, for every sport, we consider to be our biggest rival."
The lone exception to that might be Loudoun County and Loudoun Valley, the county's two oldest schools. But with Heritage having opened its doors less than three miles away from Loudoun County, it, too, has been thrown in the mix.
"I'd say that Valley and County is still the oldest and most recognized rivalry in the county," Vikings football coach Bruce Sheppard said. "But when you are constantly opening new schools and the kids are being shuffled between them, there's no way not to have that diluted a little bit.
"I've never been to a Liberty-Fauquier game, but from what I hear, until we get some real continuity out here, it's going to be tough to match."