This is the third in a series of high school football previews on Bi-City teams. Coming Tuesday: Jordan
By DAVID MITCHELL
School: Columbus High
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Nickname: Blue Devils
2013 record: 1-9
Key players: Derrick James, Ivan Rome, Essang Bassey, Dale Williams, Ladi Dada
Key game: vs. Shaw, Oct. 11 at Kinnett Stadium
Outlook: A simple look at Columbus High's track record in football over the years wouldn't give much support to the notion that this is a playoff contending team.
Last year, it was 1-9. The year before, 0-10. It was 2-8 each of the three seasons before that and 1-9 again in 2008. In fact, you'd have to go back to 1994 to find a Blue Devils team that made the playoffs, and even that was just one of a select few teams that reached that plateau.
So what about this season has coach Phil Marino and his players thinking they stand a better chance of flipping the script?
According to Marino, it starts with the team's experience. Never before has he had a unit as experienced as the one he's got now.
There are seven players returning on offense and 10 on defense. Sixteen players who will get significant playing time are seniors, the most in the six years Marino's been at Columbus.
"Five or six of these guys started as freshman," Marino said, adding: "There are no more excuses. The playing time has been there for a lot of our guys."
Like junior Derrick
James, a third-year starting quarterback who passed for over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore in 2013. Or wide receiver/defensive back Essang Bassey, who is rated a three-star recruit by 247sports.com's composite ratings.
James' top offensive weapon a year ago, James Traylor, is gone after graduating and signing to play at Georgia State, so he will rely on players like senior running back Ivan Rome and senior receiver Dale Williams to shoulder the load.
Rome and Williams both appear up to the task.
"We've really matured as a team," Williams said. "Last year we were a little younger, but we've come a long way."
"We want to prove a lot of teams wrong," Rome added. "We can't wait."
The confidence comes despite an elevation in classifications. Columbus will play in Region 1-AAAAA this year, along with Carver, Shaw, Harris County, Northside, Hardaway and LaGrange. Despite the elevation, Marino argued that the team's new region will be a little more navigable than the old one, which featured state powers Carrollton and Sandy Creek.
"It's more beneficial for us," Marino said.
While Carver and Harris County will be the prohibitive favorites to win the region and earn the second home playoff game, the Nos. 3 and 4 spots out of the division will be up for grabs.
And, yes, that does include the Blue Devils, despite their failure to compile three wins in a single season since 2007.
The non-region schedule, making up the first four games of the season, won't be easy. Columbus faces Jordan, Brookstone, Manchester and defending Class A-public state champ Marion County. The Blue Devils will enter their region slate as a battle-tested bunch, however, which could help down the stretch.
Columbus should not be ruled out of playoff contention even with a slow start in the win column, no matter what story history is telling.
With its experience and the question marks on a number of its foes, Columbus looks to be a contender for one of the final playoff spots in its region.