50th Heritage Bowl: First-year Spencer coach Calvin Arnold leads Greenwave against Carver

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 30, 2012 

It was a straightforward question, posed to new Spencer coach Calvin Arnold: Do you think Spencer can contend at a high level?

"I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't," he responded promptly.

But hope can only take you so far. Now, it's time to see the progress made on the field.

The Greenwave will open its season tonight with its annual rivalry game against Class AAA No. 3 Carver. It isn't a particularly ideal matchup to test the team's progress, of course.

Carver has won the past 13 meetings and 36 of 49 overall.

One of the premier programs in the entire state, the Tigers have advanced to back-to-back semifinals. And again this year, the Tigers look poised for a deep run, returning a number of players at key positions, including quarterback Torrance McGee and wide receiver Marqui Hawkins.

Meanwhile, Spencer hasn't had a winning record since 1977.

That's enough to make a casual fan cast this game off as a minor blip on Carver's radar. But, record notwithstanding, coaches of both teams know the game's significance.

For Carver, the significance still lies within the matchup.

"I think it's a rivalry despite the outcome of the games, despite Carver's success," Tigers coach Dell McGee said. "It's the alumni for both schools, the tailgating. There are a lot of commonalities between both schools. Just a lot of figures that make this bigger than the football field."

For Spencer, it is currently significant because it signals the beginning of a new era, which it hopes will be one of success.

"People always want to think about the past, what the results were years ago," Arnold said. "We're not doing that. If you're always looking back, how do you go forward?"

Moving forward for Spencer, Arnold said, is a week-by-week process. In tonight's

game, while a win would obviously be the ultimate success, Arnold said he is looking for his team to be better than it was in its scrimmage last week, a 14-12 win over Russell County.

Arnold specified the offensive and defensive lines as areas that still need improvement.

"They played hard, but I'm always critiquing them," he said. "I can never be satisfied. I always think we can do better than we did."

Despite its dominance in the series, Carver isn't taking Spencer lightly at all.

McGee said that, given how little he and his team know about the styles and tendencies of an Arnold-run football team, they'll be adjusting on the fly for the better part of the game.

"That's the biggest mystery," he said, referring to first-year head coach Arnold. "We've got an assumption of what they'll do, but we have to be prepared for anything. We have to be prepared for a variety of different things and just make sure we have the physical part down."

And his team is ready for the intensity the Greenwave is sure to bring.

"I know they'll be fired up with their new coach," he said. "I expect them to play hard. They're going to be a much better football team."

Arnold countered that, while his novelty might be some amount of an advantage for Spencer, it still comes down to the players on the field.

"You can't take advantage of everything," he said. "It still comes down to the kids. I can't make the adjustments. I can't do the blocking or the tackling. Everybody's got to be ready to go."

Still, Spencer pulling a shocker in this one would be, well, shocking. The matchup appears fairly straightforward.

But Spencer is focused, not so much on this game, but on the significance of its performance in achieving its ultimate goal of making the playoffs.

"I expect Spencer to play as hard as it can, play as fast as it can and give a great physical effort on every play," Arnold said. "Then we'll see what we've got next week."

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