For former Carver High School quarterback DeRon Furr, “brotherhood” is the perfect word to describe the Tigers team in 2007.
It was a unique situation for DeRon Furr that his senior season was also the first his younger brother LeRon, a junior linebacker, started for Carver. At the same time, the brotherhood expanded past the Furr bloodline, a product of a close-knit team that stayed together on and off the field.
From the classroom to the football field and everywhere in between, Carver’s players spent most of their days side by side.
“We were together all the time. Before practice and after practice,” DeRon Furr said. “That was one of the only teams that I really kept up with everybody all the time.”
As tight as each player was to his teammates, it was the talent on the field that quickly took Columbus and eventually the state by storm. The Tigers rolled through the regular season undefeated then put together an unconventional five-game win streak in the postseason.
The last of those wins was a 16-13 victory over Cairo on Dec. 15, 2007, which gave the Tigers the first state title in program history.
Ten years later, the Columbus community still revels in the triumphs of that 15-0 team. But for the Furr brothers and many of the other Carver players, the memories from that season don’t center on trophies or attention. Above all, the experience means more today because of the relationships that grew and still thrive because they were all Carver Tigers.
“We’re still real close to this day,” DeRon Furr said. “That’s one of the main reasons I think we won the championship. We had talent as well, but it was also about the camaraderie and the relationships we had.”
Talent and drive
Carver came into the 2007 season with high expectations, entering the fall ranked No. 2 in Class 3A. The team’s primary motivation, as it turns out, stemmed from the Tigers’ disappointing end to 2006.
The Tigers went 9-1 during the 2006 regular season in Dell McGee’s second year as head coach. They followed that up with three highly-contested victories to start the playoffs, setting up a rematch with Shaw in the semifinals.
Carver beat Shaw 14-9 in September, but the Raiders ultimately left the Georgia Dome with a 16-14 victory.
Fortunately for the Tigers, the majority of their playmakers from 2006 returned for 2007. Thanks to 2006’s disappointing end, the players needed no outside inspiration.
“The pain from the loss the year before was a big factor for our team,” said Jarmon Fortson, a senior wide receiver in 2007. “We didn’t want to feel like that again after we lost in the Dome. That whole (2007) season, we felt like we were the underdogs.”
The players’ determination coupled with the sheer talent throughout the roster proved to be the perfect storm.
There was DeRon Furr, the quarterback who had the ability to break a defense’s will through the air or on the ground. Fortson already had proven himself as a menace at receiver, drawing double teams week after week and still making plays. The running back stable was comparable to the one McGee later would coach at Georgia, with Malcolm Chinn, Devin Lewis, Jarkuis Morgan and Carlos Ross all producing when their names were called.
Defensively, it near impossible to find a weak spot to exploit.
Former tight end Jarvis Jones moved to linebacker for his junior season and quickly became a ball carrier’s worst nightmare. Defensive back DeQuan Menzie was a ball hawk on the talented back end of the defense, preying on errant passes and fumbled footballs on a regular basis. LeRon Furr was as productive stopping plays as his older brother was at making them, which allowed LeRon to establish himself among a strong linebacker corps.
As the 2007 season rolled along, Carver was nothing short of unstoppable against local competition. The Tigers outscored their 10 regular season opponents 413-57, with their closest game being a 19-10 victory over LaGrange on Oct. 27.
Joe Kegler, then in his first season as offensive line coach, said the key to Carver avoiding setbacks was how unselfish the uber-talented team was.
“We had four good running backs who could have started anywhere else. We had receivers who could have complained about not getting the ball,” Kegler said. “Everybody was so worried about winning. Their only goal was to win.”
‘No, man, don’t give up’
Carver made quick work of its first two playoff opponents before easing past Carrollton 14-7 in the quarterfinals, setting up another semifinal trip to the Georgia Dome. This time, the Tigers faced Chamblee, a 12-1 team from DeKalb County.
Carver senior defensive lineman Jervelous Drisdom addressed the team the night before the showdown, telling his teammates to never quit, and that they were meant to play in the championship game the following week.
It was the first piece of Drisdom’s speech that would really ring true as Carver battled it out with the Bulldogs. Through all sorts of mishaps and missed opportunities, Carver trailed 24-6 with 1:05 remaining in the third quarter.
As the minutes ticked away into the fourth quarter, despair set in for many Carver players. Fortson remembers several of his teammates crying on the sideline, unable to reconcile what had happened and what now appeared inevitable.
But as many Tigers held their heads down, Fortson remembers sophomore linebacker Tim Wright rallying the team.
“He started running up and down the sideline saying, ‘No, man, don’t give up,’ ” Fortson said. “I don’t know if he thought he did something, but that really touched me.”
Whether Wright’s words rang in anyone else’s ears or not, they certainly left a mark on Fortson. After DeRon Furr’s 3-yard touchdown run cut Chamblee’s lead to 24-12, Fortson recovered an onside kick. Not long after, DeRon Furr connected with Fortson on a 7-yard touchdown, and the two-point conversion cut the deficit to 24-20.
The Tigers got the ball back with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter and 78 yards in front of them. The Carver offense worked its way to the Chamblee 43-yard line but hit a severe snag, which led to a fourth-and-14 with 27 seconds to go.
Rather than panic, DeRon Furr and Fortson instead made the most of the moment.
Furr fired a pass downfield to Fortson, who reeled it in at 9-yard line. Shortly thereafter, Furr called his own number on a 3-yard rushing touchdown with 10 seconds left, sealing the most unimaginable victory for the Tigers.
“After that game, we just felt like it was made for us,” Fortson said. “Destiny. That was the word that was being tossed around.”
The team of destiny gets it done
The Chamblee victory set up a showdown with the Cairo Syrupmakers, a 13-1 team looking for its third state championship. After losing a coin toss to determine the host team, the Tigers had to travel about 150 miles south to Cairo.
Although the game’s location was not exactly convenient, fans from Muscogee County still came out in droves to see if Carver could finish the job.
“I remember the amount of support that traveled down to Cairo from Columbus. It wasn’t just Carver people — it felt like the entire city was behind us,” McGee said. “It was very rewarding to see our fans and Columbus travel down to that area of the state to support the Tigers.”
The Tigers took little issue with the near-6,000 raucous Cairo fans early on, jumping out to a 9-0 lead in the first half with a Carlos Ross field goal and a short Fortson rushing touchdown.
Cairo answered in the third quarter with a touchdown pass that made it a 9-7 score. Then with 3:11 to go in the fourth quarter, the Syrupmakers finished a 98-yard drive with six points, giving them their first lead of the game.
Now trailing by four, the Tigers offense returned to the field. DeRon Furr went to work throwing and running the ball, piling up 50 total yards in a little less than two minutes. With the ball on the Cairo 24-yard line, Furr took off to his left, ending the run with a dive over the goal line that put Carver ahead 16-13.
“I remember being so focused on getting in the end zone,” Furr said. “Remember Michael Jordan in ‘Space Jam’? It didn’t matter where he was — his arms just kept getting longer and longer until he ended up scoring.”
The touchdown sent a jolt through the Tigers and their fanbase, but there was still 1:01 left to play. That’s when the supposed team of destiny got another break.
The light sprinkle that had fallen during the game turned into a downpour following Furr’s rushing touchdown. As the bottom fell out, the Carver defense stood tall on Cairo’s last-chance drive, which included a 13-yard sack from none other than Fortson.
Cairo could muster no answer, and then it was over. The Tigers had finished the season as state champions.
“It’s kind of unimaginable,” LeRon Furr said. “People dream of doing things like that, and it doesn’t happen for everybody. Not only did I feel like I was playing with my real brother out there, but I felt like everybody on the field was my brother. I played for each and every one of them.”
Then and now
The talent within that Carver team was no secret, and it didn’t take long for college coaches to catch on to what the program had to offer.
Numerous Tigers went on to play college football, including DeRon Furr, who went to Auburn, Memphis and Fort Valley State; LeRon Furr, who went to Oklahoma State and Fort Valley State; Fortson, who went to Florida State and North Alabama; Defensive lineman Corey Crawford, who went to Hargrave Military Academy and Clemson; and defensive back Bill Alexander, who went to Akron.
The 2007 team also featured several players who eventually reached the NFL. Jones was a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013 and spent four seasons with the franchise. Offensive lineman Chris Hubbard also joined the Steelers in 2013 and is now in his fifth season with the team. DeRon Furr signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, but back issues ended his playing career.
Running back Isaiah Crowell — a ninth grader in 2007 — went to Georgia and Alabama State and is in his fourth season with the Cleveland Browns. Offensive lineman Gabe Wright, a fellow freshman, attended Auburn and has spent time with four NFL teams.
McGee left Carver after the 2012 season and spent time at Auburn and Georgia Southern before becoming Georgia’s running backs coach in 2016. Kegler succeeded McGee as Tigers head coach, a post he held for three seasons. Kegler is now an assistant coach at Stewart County.
Even after players left Carver and continued their athletic careers elsewhere, many of them maintained their connections. Latavius Watts, a senior safety in 2007, said he often went to Georgia to see Jones play for the Bulldogs, and Jones would return the favor by watching Watts at Morehouse College.
Like Watts and Jones, several former Tigers often traveled to see their old teammates hit the field again. Now that a lot of those Tigers have hung up their cleats for the final time, they still stay in touch just as much as they did in high school.
“We were good friends and like brothers then, and nothing’s changed,” said Watts, who is a captain in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Benning. “We’re 27 or 28 years old now and doing different things in life, but we’re still good friends.”
Like Watts, several of the players from that championship team have moved back to Columbus. Living in the same city again has made staying close that much easier, allowing many of the former Tigers to meet on a regular basis.
The championship run is what fans often focus on when they look back on the 2007 Carver team, but for the men like DeRon Furr, it was the personal bonds that were cemented because of the title that mean the most.
“It’s really special,” Furr said. “I don’t have any family in Columbus. The only family I had was my mama, my dad and my little brother. (My teammates) were my cousins, and they were my brothers. I really cherish that.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports