The 2011 football season held a great deal of promise for Statesboro High, but — like so many other schools around the state — the end goal was simply not meant to be.
In a cruel twist of fate that was eerily similar to the end of the Blue Devils’ 2010 season, the hard work and pursuit of a state title that was a year in the making sailed off into the night much like the game-ending field goal that knocked SHS out of the state playoffs. Although the loss was disheartening for all – and devastating for the seniors who ended their high school careers – the Devils have taken a rational train of thought on the situation and are starting the recovery process.
"That’s the good thing about youth," said SHS coach Steve Pennington. "It can bounce back pretty quickly. It was tough getting put out of the playoffs, but I think that our players possess the maturity to move on and grow from it."
For a coach — and program — that have seen so much success throughout the last decade or so, such thought on the matter of a first round exit might seem too simple. Then again, Pennington’s simple and straightforward approach to everything on the football field should be acknowledged as a big reason for the Devils’ success.
"I think that we have a very mature group of kids," said Pennington. "For those that are coming back next season, I trust that they are going to take the next step and become leaders.
"As far as the end of this season goes, we don’t need to rehash details. Our kids are smart enough that they know what went wrong. Those are the things that our returners will have to work on for the next season."
For those who keel before the church of football, it’s easy to see how the 2011 Statesboro season could be viewed as a shortcoming — if not a disappointment.
In 2010, the Devils were unheralded heading into the playoffs, but broke off a string of impressive performances that brought them to within seconds of reaching the state championship game. This season — with many of the main personnel returning — the Devils were highly regarded from the start. They performed as such in winning a second consecutive Region 2-AAAA championship before dropping their first round playoff game to Thomas County Central.
"We hold ourselves to the same standards each season," said Pennington. "We expect to be a very good team each year. It’s just the way everyone else views us that changes," said Pennington. "Last season, we were coming off of a 6-5 year. We played well and might have surprised some opponents. This season, I think that every opponent we had regarded us highly and we got everyone’s best effort."
To that matter, next season will be another uphill climb for the Devils.
With 23 seniors graduating, Statesboro will have more than its share of holes to fill in the roster. But, for a team that expects only the best year in and year out, that sort of adversity only serves to ensure another determined group of Blue Devils charge onto the field in 2012.
"In the offseason, our rising seniors will be expected to take on leadership roles," said Pennington. "Our JV squad was undefeated this season and William James and Langston Chapel (middle schools) had excellent seasons. We’ll go through our offseason workouts and then fire things up again."
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.