Reunions — whether they're of the class or family variety — are always great for rekindling cherished friendships and reliving the good old days.
Dozens of members of the 2005 state champion Statesboro football team got a bit of both Friday evening, seeing old classmates while remembering the brotherhood of a team that produced an incredible season.
Prior to Friday's homecoming game against Bradwell Institute, 2005 team members gathered in the school's media center. There were hugs and high-fives all around as some teammates were seeing each other for the first time since graduation.
Encircling the scene were dozens of photos and scrapbooks documenting the team's magical run. After falling short in the 2003 state title game, the 2004 Blue Devils ran the table through the regular season and playoffs, only to come up empty once again in the championship game.
For the seniors who made up much of the starting lineup on the 2005 squad, the pressure to win was evident – even 10 years after the fact.
“We lost as sophomores and we lost as juniors,” SHS quarterback David Cone said. “I remember the focus going into our senior season. I saw that even good teams could lose. I'm a little biased, but I think we worked harder than anyone in the state that year.”
The Devils had to earn every inch of their state title, battling Northside-Warner Robbins tooth and nail before winning a 13-10 decision in the final seconds on a Josh Rich field goal.
Rich, a junior at the time, played out his senior season and was back on the Statesboro sidelines Friday night for the first time since graduating.
“It's surreal looking back on it,” Rich, now a CPA in Atlanta, said. “I remember all those little details that set up that last kick. Once it went through, it was all jubilation and feeling great about the season that we went through together.”
The championship-winning kick is still as clear as ever in the mind of offensive guard Brennan Palmer. The field goal was the last snap of Palmer's high school career and he was determined to make it count.
“I remember that one of Northside's best players was their linebacker, number 4,” Palmer said. “He was coming right for my inside gap. I thought that if anyone was going to block it, it was going to be him, so I just tried to get in front of him and prayed.”
The Northside player never came close to getting a hand on the kick – a fact that was clear as Friday's event came to a stand-still as the final moments of the game were replayed on a projection screen.
The memories hung thick in the air as highlights from the season continued to play. Hard hits received the same 'oohs' and 'ahs' that they produced a decade ago. Big plays still brought out a few cheers. And most closeups of un-helmeted players were met with jokes about hairstyle choices from 10 years ago.
As the reunion wore down and the team prepared to head off to the Womack Field locker room to meet with the latest edition of the Blue Devils, former assistant coach Kenny Tucker summed up the night properly.
“Watching these highlights, the hair still stands up on the back of my neck,” Tucker said. “I'm so glad that so many guys could make it back to help celebrate. In 30 years of coaching, I only got to (celebrate a state championship) twice.
“This is a special group.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.