Harris County football team finds support in community for game against Gainesville

HAMILTON, Ga. -- Walk into the atrium at Harris County High, and you might pick up on the atmosphere surrounding the football team's run in the state playoffs.

Signs with players' names and numbers are stacked five high on each pillar in the room. Other signs scattered around the walls declare it to be "Tiger Territory" or share inspirational messages for the players to see.

"Life's battles don't always go to the stronger or faster man, but to the man who thinks that he can," declares one sign. Another says simply: "Refuse to lose."

It's just a taste of the excitement surrounding a team that has, for eight games, done just that.

After an 0-4 start to the season, the Tigers have won eight straight, including two to open the Georgia High School Association Class AAAAA state playoffs. Those were the first two state playoff wins in the program's 56-year history of varsity football.

Now, it has a chance to clinch its first semifinals berth with a win against Gainesville on Friday at home, and it has the support of students, parents and even local residents who don't follow the team closely.

"It's been a great atmosphere at games," athletic director Bryce Robinson said. "The crowd has been fun and energetic. They make noise at the right times. We've just have had great crowds here."

Players and coaches on the team have taken notice of the fan support, and have expressed their appreciation. Esaias Chapman, a running back on the team, said that he's heard people talk about the team's improbable run around the community.

"We started winning and gaining support, and the team started believing," he said. "I hear about it around the community. It helps a lot. It gives us a lot of motivation."

Defensive end Jay Ellison said the same.

"It's crazy," he said. "It's amazing to have the support. The crowd's been wild and loud. We've had a ton of support from around the community."

Local businesses near the school have placed signs of support for the Tigers. Down the road from the school, a local gas station has a sign declaring "Go get 'em Tigers." Not far away, a church recognizes the team with a simple, "Go Tigers." Across the street from the gas station, the Collision Center of Hamilton says, "Congrats HC Tigers."

Ronald Hendrix, the owner of the Collision Center, said that he doesn't have an association to the team, he just wants to support his community.

"That's pretty cool," Robinson said. "We've seen the signs, and that's one thing we haven't really had here at Harris County before. We're very excited about it. We're doing new things, things that haven't been done at this school."

Coach Tommy Parks said that this is an important time for the community. "It's an exciting time," he said. "It's always been important to the players. They've always wanted to win and they've always been committed, win or lose. But it's important to the community, too. Nothing brings a community together like athletics. I really believe that."

The visiting team on Friday, Gainesville High, has enjoyed strong fan support for years and will likely have a sizable contingent make the three-hour trip down for the game.But if the recent outpouring of support is any indication, the Tigers can expect a good crowd on Friday.

"Like I said, we're all excited about it," Robinson said. "Once this team got the taste of winning, they believe they can every week."