Statesboro High School head coach Steve Pennington is a pretty quiet guy on a day-to-day basis. Works hard, stays to the grind and gets the job done. However, one moment captured in time truly embodies how it feels to reach the pinnacle as a head football coach.
In Pennington’s office a framed picture of the Blue Devils’ coach jumping for joy with his arms raised in the air hangs on the wall. Only one thing could send Pennington in such a frenzy — a state championship.
This year Pennington, along with several community members, former players and coaches of the 2005 state championship team will get to relive all the memories from their undefeated 15-0 state title run.
Friday won’t just be a homecoming celebration for Statesboro High School, but will also welcome back the 2005 Class AAAA football championship team for their 10-year anniversary.
Kenny Tucker, an assistant coach with the Blue Devils during their championship run, helped coordinate the event along with plenty of willing mothers of former players.
Tucker said band members and cheerleaders from the 2005 championship year are more than welcome to participate in the reunion festivities. The more the merrier, he said.
“We had a reunion four years ago for the 2001 championship team. I got in touch with some of the players’ moms and the moms got things done,” said Tucker, laughing. “I’m really looking forward to it. That was a special bunch of kids. We played for a state championship from 2000-2005 (except 2002). The seniors on the team played for state as sophomores.”
The Blue Devils’ road to a state championship wasn’t an easy one. In 2004 the team went 14-1, losing to Warner Robins in the state title game 34-13. The year prior, a 21-6 loss to Marist denied Statesboro a state title.
“It was a good group of kids. They enjoyed being around each other. I still see some of them in town,” Tucker said. “I’ll always remember that night and celebrating. It was just a very special time and one of the highlights of my coaching career.”
The Blue Devils were able to win state in dramatic fashion. Kicker Josh Rich punched in a 29-yard field goal with just 11.6 seconds left to give Statesboro a 13-10 win over Northside-Warner Robins.
That year Statesboro’s team was loaded with talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Justin Houston and DeAngelo Tyson would go on to play in the National Football League. Tyson is currently with the Ravens while Houston plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.
“You couldn’t ask for better coaches and a great group of parents. We had a great defense,” said former Statesboro linebacker Josh McCook. “Playing with Justin (Houston) and DeAngelo (Tyson) there was no one to block me as a linebacker. We just had such a big defensive line. I don’t think we realised how good we were until some of the other players went on to play beyond high school.”
McCook was a big part of the Statesboro defense during the championship season. Defensive back John Knox and McCook had the big hit of the game which forced a fumble to set up the game-winning field goal.
“We used to hit so hard and just take players out. I remember we broke one player’s leg. By the fourth quarter we would just wear offenses down,” McCook said, reminiscing. “Justin (Houston) had some huge hits and we knew we could always stop the offense. The first few games of the (2005) season we didn’t give up any points.”
The Blue Devils defense that year allowed an average of just six points per game, including the playoffs.
Former Blue Devil starting quarterback David Cone said winning the state title was a big relief. For him and his teammates, the title was a chance for redemption.
“As a senior, I knew it was my last chance. There was no going back. It was win this one or we would never get another chance,” Cone said. “I’m just really proud of what we accomplished because we did it together. I can’t wait to see those guys. For a brief moment in time, we accomplished something that will go down in history.”
Cone said he, along with his teammates, looked up to the 2001 Statesboro High School state championship team.
“It always gave us something to strive for,” Cone said. “I think back with such admiration and just think ‘man they were always there for us.’”
Cone is busy these days working as a film and commercial director based in the Atlanta area. He admitted he wants to check in with the team and coaches more, but is thankful for the opportunity to reunite with his teammates and former coaches Friday.
From 5-6:30 p.m. those participating in the reunion will meet at the school’s media center for light refreshments. At 6:30 p.m., participants will walk down to Statesboro’s field house.
After Statesboro’s halftime Homecoming celebration, the 2005 state championship team will meet by the scoreboard to take a group photo.
Tucker said he expects 40 to 50 former players to participate.