The seeds of Central High School’s 1993 state football championship were sown well before the Red Devils beat West End at Legion Field in Birmingham on that Saturday afternoon in December.
From a simple catch phrase to the hiring of an assistant coach the year before to the intense workouts in the summer of 1993 to late-night hangouts at a local pizzeria to a symbolic ring: all of those seeds grew together into the school’s only football championship to date.
The 1993 team gathered together Thursday night for a dinner in Phenix City. It will be honored at tonight’s Backyard Brawl at 8 p.m. against Smiths Station at Garrett-Harrison Stadium.
Griff Gordy, who would go on to be the quarterback on the state championship team, remembers the practices for the freshman team in 1990.
Central was still at its former location on Railroad Street, which is now home to Phenix City Intermediate School.
“ We were practicing at the old high school on a patch of grass — it was literally a patch of grass,” Gordy said. “Charles Kelley (a former Auburn player is who is now an assistant coach at Florida State) would have us (end practice by shouting) state champs.
“He told us that we would be playing in the coming years for Central High School, and that for the next few years, that was our goal. It had to be our mindset.
“I also remember the varsity players would laugh at us.”
The following season was a train wreck for the Red Devils, who went 1-9.
“That was the longest season of my life,” longtime head coach Wayne Trawick said, “and that hurt. That was tough. We couldn’t win a close game.”
Gordy said that also was a painful season for the players.
“We tasted everything that could go wrong,” he said. “We decided to turn that around. That team had the talent but didn’t have the trust.”
To make matters worse, Trawick decided to resign and accepted a job at Shaw High.
But Bill Hayes, Central’s principal at the time, kept asking him if he would consider returning.
“I committed myself over there,” Trawick said. “I would hate to take a job, then come back.”
Finally, Hayes, whom Trawick calls “one of my best friends,” made one last offer: “This is the last day I am going to say anything to you. It is about to be closed out, so I am going to ask you one last time.”
“I told Mr. Hayes, if Woodrow Lowe, who was coaching at Russell County at the time, if we could hire Woodrow, I’d come back,” Trawick said. “I didn’t know if he would take the job, hadn’t talked to him about it.”
Trawick went through 10 days of practice at Shaw before Hayes got the approval of the superintendent, and Trawick and Lowe were hired at Central.
Lowe, who is Central’s current head coach, put the players through intense workouts the summer before the 1993 season.
“He added a lot to our staff,” Trawick said. “I guarantee we were in good shape because I put him in charge of conditioning.”
Gordy said they worked really hard to win during the offseason before the 1993 season.
“We bonded so much during that summer,” Gordy said. “We struggled during the offseason. Coach Lowe really put us through it.”
A season of pizza
Central won its first five games that 1993 season, but then ran into an old nemeses in Opelika, and the Red Devils lost its only game of the season, 22-21.
“I remember we hung out together after games (at Hobo’s Pizza in Stadium Plaza, across the street from the stadium),” Gordy said.
“After that game, we talked about that we weren’t going to let one loss ruin our season or keep us from what we were working toward. We were going to move forward.”
Gordy said the closeness of that team was remarkable.
“A lot of our success had to do with just how close we were as not only teammates but as friends,” Gordy said. “I have never been part of a team that was as close knit as we were. That started as a ninth-grader.”
The Red Devils went on to win their final four games, including area wins over Auburn and Russell County to clinch a playoff berth.
Turning black into gold
Trawick doesn’t remember where he got the idea, but, before the playoffs started, he told the players and the coaches that they would all wear black electrical tape around their ring finger. He told them that after they won a state championship, the tape would be replaced by state championship rings.
Daniel Kirkland, a running back on that team, said, “Coach Trawick told us that the black tape would be replaced by a gold championship ring. It was a dream we were aspiring to.”
Gordy said his rarely, if ever, came off.
“I might have replaced it once,” he said. “I remember after the (state championship) game, taking it off and my finger smelling bad and there was a raw area.”
Trawick still wears his state championship ring on a regular basis.
Central beat Carver-Montgomery, LeFlore and Benjamin Russell to reach the semifinals against Enterprise.
Gordy hooked up with wide receiver Shedrick Dixon for a few long touchdown passes. The third one tied the game in overtime, and Gordy’s PAT gave the Red Devils the win and berth to the state championship game. That pass reception for a touchdown in overtime was the final one for Dixon that season as he didn’t catch a ball in the title game.
Gordy becomes emotional when remembering Dixon, who was killed in a shooting in a barber shop three years ago.
“He was such a big part of our team,” Gordy said. “He had such a big heart. It was devastating. I was asked to speak at his funeral. I know football had been a huge part of his life.”
Gordy said he reached out to Dixon’s mother and asked her to be a part of the celebration.
Most of the Central players had never been to Legion Field in Birmingham. If any had, it had been to watch Alabama, which back then played a number of its games there.
Add in the AstroTurf, which meant new shoes, and the fact that it was their opponent West End’s home field, and players were awestruck.
“I remember when we ran out on the field they looked up into those big old stands, and we had some pretty big eyes,” Trawick said.
Kirkland scored both of the Red Devils’ touchdowns, one in the second quarter and one in the third for a 12-0 lead.
West End scored late in the third quarter to close to within 12-7.
Then it was up to Central’s defense to hold West End at bay in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore Scotty King stepped up with an interception to stop one drive, then a quarterback hurry to stop the final drive.
“We had such a special team of players,” Kirkland said. “It is a memory that has lasted me forever. As an adult, you realize how special that was.”
Kevin Price, 706-320-4493. Follow Kevin on Twitter @lesports and on Facebook at Facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports