Central head coach Jamey DuBose has stressed the high school football season is a marathon, not a sprint. That said, his Red Devils are about to start the final leg of that long run.
The Red Devils begin postseason play Friday night when they host Theodore at Garrett-Harrison Stadium. DuBose and his players are eager to make the first-round matchup the first of a four-game stretch culminating in Central’s first state championship since 1993.
For DuBose, the past few days have him feeling confident in his team’s preparation.
“Right now, I think we’ve had a really good week of practice,” DuBose said. “We’ve had a lot of focus and some good energy, and I think our guys understand where we’re at now. It’s a survival week to week now.”
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Now in his fourth season at Central, DuBose has had teams with the potential to go all the way before. The Red Devils combined for 19 wins in 2015 and 2016, but each season ended the same way — with a loss to McGill-Toolen in the Class 7A semifinals.
Ranked No. 1 in Class 7A by the ASWA, Central may have its best chance yet to finish the job. The Red Devils have outscored opponents 125-51 thanks in part to skill players such as wide receiver Justyn Ross, quarterback Peter Parrish and running back A’montae Spivey. The defense has its share of playmakers, too, like linebackers Tyler Moore and De’Anthony Miles and safety Ray Thornton.
While the stats and the recruiting stars speak for themselves, Miles explained it’s not just an abundance of talent that has this team poised to end the year 13-0.
Miles, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior, applauded DuBose’s efforts, saying DuBose has convinced the players to believe in themselves and trust the coaching staff’s process. As a result, the players have grown closer together, forming a bond that doesn’t take a break when they change out of their uniforms.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Miles said. “We care about each other more, and we’re concerned about each other. If one of us doesn’t have a ride, we’re there. We’ll go pick them up.”
Brotherhood was also the word of choice for senior offensive guard Ladarius Jones. He said the team has faced its share of adversity in a regular season which saw the team go undefeated for the first time since 1995. Despite those issues, the team never backed down, which is something it can’t afford to do now.
DuBose said the playoff losses over the past few years aren’t discussed often, but he added it’s always in the back of the players’ minds. Jones explained that as a senior, he and the other members of his class openly bring it up as an inspirational tactic for the weeks ahead.
“We talked about coming up short as a group,” Jones said. “We wanted to work to do something different this year, get over the hump and get that ring.”
A ring won’t be on the line until the first full week in December, and it’s imperative the Red Devils take care of business to reach that point.
It starts with Theodore, a team DuBose credited for likely being the best defensive opponent Central has faced since Auburn on Sept. 8. The Bobcats started the season 3-0 — which helped earn them a No. 7 ranking by the ASWA — before a 3-4 to closing stretch.
“We’ve got to go out there Friday night and just worry about us,” DuBose said. “We can’t worry about the opponent or anything else. I’m a firm believer we are a talented enough a football team and that if we just take care of us and eliminate the silly mistakes, we’re going to have a chance to go on to the next round.”
DuBose has challenged his players to build off what the previous teams did and take the next step. He lauded leaders throughout this roster but said the best leaders are the ones who make their efforts evident when do-or-die-time comes around.
For Friday’s game and beyond, Jones offered two simple objectives for himself and his teammates.
“We’ve just got to stay together and dominate,” Jones said.
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports