Ending the season with a 2-8 mark last year left a sour taste in the mouth of the Statesboro High School football community. The 2014 season was the first in 16 years in which the team had a losing record and it was the first time since 1939 the Blue Devils won just two games or fewer in a season.
The mystique that comes with playing for Statesboro High is undeniable. The team has three players in the NFL, 13 region championships and five state titles.
The focus for the Blue Devils this season — getting back to a winning formula.
Head coach Steve Pennington, who is entering his 12th year at the helm of the Blue Devils, said the first few weeks of practice have been promising.
“Our work ethic and spirit has been very positive. We have enough players who endured a rough season last year and they want to make sure we rectify that problem and change it,” Pennington said. “We have enough young folks that want to be a part of what we’re doing and compete. It’s a win-win situation because right now opportunities are abound for anyone that wants to put in the work.”
Pennington said the coaches, not just the players, have to reevaluate their methods from last year. The team started the season on a five-game losing streak before its first win over Richmond Hill, 14-13. But even after that victory, a state playoff appearance – usually a foregone conclusion for the Devils – was already all but out of the question.
The Blue Devils entered the second day of practice with school in session Tuesday. Pennington said the focus for the coaching staff is getting the players better each day.
“We have to correct things starting with us and how we teach, plan, prepare and how we motivate. We’re all in this together,” Pennington said Tuesday afternoon before the start of practice. “There’s going to be challenges and difficult times ahead this season, but I think it creates a trust factor and a confidence factor as we work through what we went through last year. Everybody has to work on improvements.”
One aspect the Blue Devils were able to work on in the off-season is competing in more “team-oriented” activities. After a disappointing season, Pennington said he scheduled more team-building activities as well as competing in 7-on-7 passing camps in order to build the team’s chemistry.
Pennington said the switch to more team activities over the summer was beneficial for his squad. The Blue Devils focused on team drills three times a week in the summer and participated in 7-on-7 scrimmages in Vidalia and Screven County.
The first game of the regular season for the Blue Devils is scheduled against Burke County as the two teams will participate in the fourth annual Erk Russell Classic on Aug. 22 at Paulson Stadium. The Blue Devils have their sights set on redeeming their lost to Burke County in last year’s Classic affair.
“We were at a crawling stage last year. Now we’re walking. Now we have to all start coming together so we can start running,” Pennington said.
Horace Holloman may be reached at (912) 489-9408.