They didn’t lose in the seventh grade. Or the eighth. Or on the Central High freshmen team.
After two perfect seasons at South Girard Middle School and one on the freshmen team, a handful of sophomores have had the opportunity to show what they are capable of doing for the Central varsity team.
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Central coach Ron Nelson started six sophomores and played another in the season-opening win against Eufaula. That group has meshed with the upperclassmen and has helped the Red Devils start the season 2-0.
The Red Devils will be tested when they travel to Auburn, Ala., to take on the Tigers (1-1) tonight at 8.
“There is no question that there is some talent in this group,” Nelson said. “They have worked hard and earned the right to start. They are going to have to continue to work hard because everyone is trying to catch them.”
And while they haven’t lost a game since the start of middle school, they haven’t played teams from across the state, either.
“They have been successful in East Alabama,” Nelson said. “They haven’t played the Hoovers or the Prattvilles. They should set their goals high and want to see how they would do against those teams.”
The sophomore class is led by quarterback Darren Daniel. The Red Devils have also received contributions from Vanderrius Chadwick, Deon Hill, Glenn Miller, Taurance Bass, Cordary Clark and Deonte Swinton.
Even though they have helped contribute to the wins, they can tell the difference in the competition from middle school.
“It’s a whole lot quicker,” said Daniel, who has two touchdown passes this season. “It’s also a whole harder. You have to be able to read what the defense is doing. In middle school, it was just a set play and you ran it.”
And that’s not been the only adjustment that the young Red Devils have had to make.
“I was usually the biggest one,” said Chadwick, who started a handful of games at the end of the 2006 season. “That’s not the case anymore. They are bigger and quicker than me. I had to get in the weight room and get stronger.”
While the adjustment process will continue, Nelson has seen some positives in the first two games.
“Some of the young guys have stepped up and done some good things,” Nelson said. “We still have a long way to go.”
All of their success has created some big expectations.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Daniels said. “We have a winning tradition, and we should be able to handle that. We have done well through the first two games.”
Starting a young and unproven but talented quarterback is nothing new for Nelson. He started Kelcy Luke and Earl Alexander when they were sophomores.
Daniel, a 6-foot-3 and 200-pound quarterback, spent a lot of time during the summer and spring preparing for high school defenses. It has helped him as he completed nearly 50 percent of his passes and hasn’t thrown an interception.
“He is learning more every day practice,” Nelson said. “It’s a learning process, and he is getting better daily.”
“It makes me feel a lot better knowing that my coach and teammates have confidence in me,” Daniel said. “I have a lot of confidence in myself that can get it done.”
He also gotten some help from the running backs — Orwin Smith, Jimmy Walton and Hill — that have combined to rush for 414 yards this season. Smith leads the team with 276 yards and three touchdowns on 47 carries.
That running attack will give the Red Devils a chance to start the season 3-0 after beginning 0-3 in 2006. They have already avenged losses to Eufaula and Smiths Station.
“There is no doubt that we were embarrassed by the 0-3 start,” Nelson said. “After that we were 5-2, but it forced us to have an average season and miss the playoffs. But we are going to be tested by a senior-laden Auburn team that has 38 seniors.
"It will definitely test our young people.”
Contact Robert Spruck at 706-576-6230