By Mark Clark
The Central High Freshman football team entered the 2018 season with one goal in mind – having a successful season. They achieved that goal with a 7-1 record, which was a huge step for a team coming off a 3-4 record as eighth graders.
“Our goal was a successful season, but we had two other things we had to learn before that could happen,” Central Freshmen coach Larry Knox said. “First, we had to learn to compete and to finish games. When we started summer workouts, once a week, we divided up in teams and played dodge ball and tug-o-war. The idea behind this was to have competitions to help the players learn to compete and learn to finish, being able to put other teams away.”
Knox also scheduled his team to play in 7-on-7 competitions to gain a sense of togetherness, to gain a sense of being a team. The squad won two of the three competitions and played well in the third one. The third 7-on-7 was held at Troy University and the Phenix City freshmen competed against junior varsity squads from around the state. They lost one game in the competition at Troy on the last play of the contest.
“Even though we lost that one, we were able to drive home our message of finishing off opponents. We told the players that if they did not learn to compete and finish until the end of the season, we would not be successful. We would have a season no better than the last two they had had in the seventh and eighth grades,” Knox said.
The team was 5-3 as seventh graders and 3-4 as eighth graders. The coaches and players agreed that they wanted something better in 2018.
Knox said his team was excited about getting started this past season, but had to suffer through “miserable” conditions in their opening game with Park Crossing in Montgomery. The teams played in rain the entire contest and had to sit through an hour and 15-minute lightning delay. The Central team also had six turnovers, one which led to a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Park Crossing. And, Park Crossing returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Park Crossing won the game 16-14.
“We played under miserable conditions. We mishandled three snaps from center, the second one of the game they recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. They also scored on a kickoff return. You are not supposed to lose a game where your defense does not allow a point, but we did. We left the game and went right back to learning how to compete,” Knox said.
The next week, Central took on rival Smiths Station – a team it had not beaten in the last two seasons. The practices were tougher and longer before the Smiths Station game than they had been before Park Crossing.
“We told the kids that if they won their last seven games that people would forget that first game loss to Park Crossing,” Knox said.
Central defeated Smiths Station 41-20 to begin a seven-game winning streak. They followed the victory over Smiths Station with a 32-24 win over Prattville, a 30-20 victory over Opelika, beat Valley 16-14, Eufaula 30-26, Auburn 32-6 and Enterprise 34-21.
“We went into the season wanting to teach the kids to compete and finish off opponents. We are proud of where we finished the year. I think the kids learned what we were trying to teach them. When you look back, it was not an easy season. The kids had three games that they had to rally to win.
They played five games of the eight on the road. To finish 7-1, after losing the first game, shows their ability to get better than they were when they arrived at the Central Freshman Academy campus.
They worked hard in the weight room and in our conditioning program to make sure they were in shape. The goal each year is to go undefeated. I told the kids in our huddle after the Enterprise game that they did not have to go undefeated to be a great football team.
They won seven games in a row while playing five of the eight on the road and also had those three games that they came from behind. They became a great team. They deserved the achievements they reached. They worked hard for them,” Knox said.