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The top of the mountain

SHS capping a decade of dominance on football field

The top of the mountain

The top of the mountain

Statesboro High kicker Caleb Brown pu...


Schools around the state are readying for the long winter break, meaning that many of them are focused on basketball.

But throughout the last decade, Statesboro residents have flipped the calendar to December only to find that the Blue Devils still have business to attend to on the football field.

Statesboro hosts Chattahoochee Friday night in the semifinals of the Class AAAA playoffs, and a win would send the Blue Devils to the state title game for an astounding sixth time since the 2000 campaign.

In that time, Statesboro has compiled an overall record of 120-24-1 including state championships in both 2001 and 2005.

Overseeing the Blue Devils as head coach since 2004 has been Steve Pennington, who came to Statesboro as defensive coordinator in 1999. Pennington has compiled a career record of 166-94-4 in stints at Statesboro, Ware County, Appling County and Louisville, but the winning tradition of the Devils is something special even for a coach with his credentials.

"It’s an amazing thing," said Pennington of the culture of SHS football. "It takes a lot of people working together to make such a strong program. We’ve been blessed with talented players and we’ve had a strong and consistent coaching staff, but we’ve also had a great amount of support from the school administration and our fans. It takes all of that to really build something."

With six playoff appearances, three region titles and a state championship since taking the reins, Pennington and his players have a lot to hang their hat on. Always careful not to let consistency give way to complacence, the Devils fight every day to make sure that they remain among the elite teams in their classification.

"You work so hard to get to the top, and it’s a great feeling when you do," said Pennington. "Then, you realize that sustaining that level of achievement can be a lot harder than getting there in the first place. We’re proud of our accomplishments, but we never stop working to get better."

The driving force behind the Devils’ run has been a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball.

Armed with the simple plan of building a bruising offensive line, a powerful running game and a punishing defense, Statesboro has kept the same strategy — and level of success — while other teams peak and bottom out as talented classes come and go.

For the annual changing of the guard from one group of Blue Devil stars to the next, Pennington gives all the credit to his players.

"I don’t think that our guys feel pressure or expectations from the outside," said Pennington. "It’s difficult to try to compare one season to the next, but they motivate themselves with their own expectations."

With the level of talent and volume of players on each year’s squad, playing time can be hard to come by for younger players. But Pennington has witnessed the growth and maturation of many classes, and has seen the transformation of players from scout team members to team leaders.

"As freshmen and sophomores, a lot of our guys have to put in hard work to help make the team better," said Pennington. "That doesn’t always mean that they’ll see playing time in the games. But then, when they’re older and in positions to be starters and contribute, they press themselves even harder to make sure that all of their effort over the years won’t be in vain."

Now, with only Chattahoochee standing between the Devils and yet another trip to the state finals, it’s perfectly clear that Statesboro is quite comfortable at the top of the AAAA heap.

And if the last ten years have been any indicator, fans shouldn’t expect to have many open Fridays in December anytime soon.

 

Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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