Cherokees make huge strides during season

Kendrick won as many games during 2012 as it had from 2008-11

November 13, 2012 

When Kendrick coach Jerry Dukes pulled his truck up to the practice field on Tuesday, he had a faint smile on his face.

"It's a good day," he said when asked how he was doing.

And so it is for his Cherokees football team, which is preparing for its first playoff game since 1999.

With its 24-20 win over Spencer last Friday, Kendrick (5-5) clinched a berth in the Class AA playoffs, which will begin Friday at No. 7 Jefferson (9-1).

Despite the new territory, however, Dukes stressed that his team is not satisfied.

"That's something that we talked about at the beginning of this week," the coach said. "We're not satisfied with one game in the playoffs. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to get here, but that doesn't mean that we don't have new goals now. We're trying to win a state championship just like everybody else."

Senior Heath Pugh put it another way.

"Our school won't let us be satisfied with a laugh," he said. "Everyone's treating it like it's just the beginning."

To understand where Kendrick is going, though, it's important to understand how it got here. To put things into context, this is a team that had won only five games -- this season's win total -- from 2008-11.

In one season, the Cherokees were able to match that total and clinch a spot as one of the 32 playoff teams from Class AA.

Dukes and his players, who swore at the beginning of the season that the playoffs would be a reality, agreed on what it took to get to this position:

Offseason work, execution and

leadership.

"It started last summer before the season," Dukes said. "We had more guys committed to our strength and conditioning program than ever before. That made a big difference in our strength and endurance."

And that helps the execution, said running back Brandon Wade, who rushed for over 100 yards in the win against Spencer.

"We're hungry now," he said. "We know what it feels like to win, and we're practicing hard. We believe we have a chance to win every time we take the field."

"You've got to want it," fellow running back Travonte Chambers agreed.

All of that came together with leadership.

Before Dukes arrived at practice, a couple of players yelled out to the team to start stretching. When a few stragglers arrived late, the same players leading the stretching told them to take a lap around the field.

"They know," Dukes said. "They know what we expect out of them. We expect our older kids to take a leadership role, and I think that's one of the greatest impacts on our team."

And where there are leaders, who are doing the right thing, there are going to be others who are following.

"We stay together, like brothers," Keath Pugh said.

"We've gotten closer as a team and we know our roles."

The team may be facing an uphill battle when it travels to take on Jefferson on Friday. The Dragons are a perennially solid football team.

But nobody involved with the team is ruling themselves out.

"We know we have to show up and hit them in the mouth," linebacker Marvin Lewis said.

"And everyone is going to have to keep playing together," linebacker Emmanuel Brown added."

And if they do?

"I think we've always got a chance," Dukes said. "This team has come a long way."

David Mitchell, 706-571-8571

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