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My Take - SHS surprised all

There’s a dirty little secret that I need to get off my chest.

You know the Statesboro Blue Devils?

Yeah, the same Blue Devils that came within inches of reaching this week’s Class AAAA football state championship.

Well, at the beginning of the year, I would have given you quite the sideways glance if you told me that they would be hosting a semifinal game at the end of the year.

In 2009, Statesboro struggled through much of the season. The Devils suffered some lopsided losses and at times looked to be just a step or two too far behind the competition to stay in games.

I saw that there was young talent on the team that could grow in the 2010 season, but some key departures by seniors and other players who opted to transfer out of Statesboro left me skeptical as the season got underway.

Through those first few weeks of fall practice and into the preseason scrimmage, I just couldn’t tell where any of the magic was going to come from. The Devils looked shaky at best in their scrimmage against Groves – a team it had utterly dominated in the 2009 regular season – and despite all the preseason clichés of getting lots of people playing time and trying some new things, I left with the distinct impression that it might be a long season for Statesboro.

But then a funny thing started to happen.

Instead of the Devils crumbling because of their weaker spots, they rose to the challenge and became stronger than many thought they could be.

Reid Pennington was a first year starter under center, but he thrived in this year’s system which didn’t feature the dual-quarterback scheme from 2009.

The defensive secondary had just one senior in the starting lineup, but the group of underclassmen quickly gelled and were instrumental in shutting down some high-powered passing attacks.

The offense lost its leading rusher from last season along with two more running backs transferring out of the school, but that just cleared the way for the senior leadership of Aaron Lester and the breakout years for both Dequan Daniels and Trai Gadson.

Even the strongest link in the SHS chain — the offensive line — faced adversity when over half of the opening night starters had been forced out of the lineup at some point just three games into the season. Replacements simply strapped on a helmet, took their place, and got the job done.

When teams refuse to see their shortcomings as roadblocks and instead view them as obstacles to be overcome, you end up with a squad like the 2010 Blue Devils.

Preseason prognosticators thought that Statesboro would make a playoff appearance at best. The writers’ poll put the Devils in the top-10 just once and never bothered to vote them in again after their first loss of the season.

None of it ever seemed to matter for the kids in blue and white.

Every week, the team got stronger. Every time Statesboro got knocked down, it jumped right back up and came out twice as hard the next week.

So while the Blue Devils might not be a championship team this year, they should take solace in the fact that their team is full of what champions are made of.

Over the last five months, it has been Statesboro’s grit, hustle, and willingness to outwork the competition — all things that don’t go into the preseason hype or weekly polls — that showed why it has earned its reputation as one of the elite schools in Class AAAA.

Next season, some old faces will be gone and some new ones will emerge, but the spirit and drive the Blue Devils show each year is sure to have them right back in the hunt.

Maybe next time, I’ll know a little better.

 

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

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