Russell County football coach Demond McCoy stood in front of his players inside the school on Wednesday afternoon.
Weather had ended practice a bit early, and the boys sat looking up at their first-year head coach.
"Do you guys believe in opportunities," McCoy asked his team. The shouted their affirmation. "And what do you do with opportunities? You take them."
That's what the Warriors have when they play tonight at Central: An opportunity.
"It's an opportunity for them to do something that hasn't been done in a long time," McCoy said. "Something they've never done before."
That "something" would be picking up an improbable victory against the heavily-favored Red Devils, a team which, despite breaking in a new quarterback and a handful of pieces on defense, is still talented and very deep.
No one on Russell County's roster has defeated Central, as the last win came
in a 26-20, overtime win in 2007. In fact, that win is the only win for the Warriors over the Red Devils since 1998.
McCoy said it would take more than just a good game to pull off the upset.
"We have to be as close to perfect as we can possibly be," he said. "We have to execute and eliminate our mistakes. That's what we have to do."
It's a tall order for a team which McCoy says is "halfway there."
"We've made progress, and my expectations of this team are always very high," McCoy said. "It's just going to take more playing and more practicing."
Win or lose, the game will be a good gauge of the progress the Warriors have made under their new coach. Fans will get a firsthand look at how Russell County's defensive front handles the experienced Red Devils offensive line and how linebackers contend with the athleticism of Central's new starting quarterback, Jamal Howard.
"I want to see them compete," McCoy said. "I'll be satisfied as a coach if they can go out and do that."
For Central coach Woodrow Lowe, the expectations are, understandably, higher. This is a team which regularly contends at the state level and anything less than a comfortable victory could be cause for some discomfort.
But that isn't how Lowe is approaching the game. He knows McCoy from the days he coached him at Russell County and knows the effect he will have on Russell County.
"He is a hard-nosed competitor, and we've got to be ready," Lowe said.
"He's a new coach, and we really don't know a lot about what to expect from that team because of that."
Lowe stressed that because of the novelty of the team they will face, his players have to focus solely on themselves.
"We have to put the emphasis on what we do, not what they do," he said. "There are good athletes at Russell County, but we have to worry about getting ourselves ready."
That's what he and his coaches have been doing all summer and, particularly, since the scrimmage against Carver last Thursday.
They have focused on eliminating penalties, which caused particular discomfort for Lowe last week, and they've focused on solidifying a handful of positions.
Lowe said that the team had to replace key men on the defensive side of the ball and, going into the game, about five are solidified.
They will get an immediate test when they face a Russell County run game led by Quantarious Allen.
Conventional wisdom says that the Red Devils will rise to the occasion. But Russell County will refuse to back down.
"We aren't going to play scared," linebacker Derrick Harley said. "No matter the outcome, we're going to compete."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571