Practice was over on Tuesday at Russell County — except for the sprints.
Players lined up on the 40-yard line and, at each blast from coach Dwight Jones’ whistle, different position groups sprinted to the goal line. They had just a tick over one minute and 52 seconds to get everyone back and forth twice. If they didn’t make the time, they had to line up and do it again.
And guess what?
They didn’t make it the first time through. Players grabbed their knees, sucking air, or else walked to the water trough to get a squirt of hydration. There was some chatter, but, surprisingly, no complaints.
A couple of players encouraged teammates.
“You’ve got to finish,” one said. “We can’t jog. We’ve got to run.”
When the players tried the sprints again, they made it without an issue.
It was a microcosm of where the Warriors find themselves as a program. Each Friday night, they line up on the field, preparing themselves for the 48-minute sprint to the finish line, hoping upon hope that this time will be different. That this will be the Friday night when their fortunes change and they end the losing streak that now stands at 25 games.
Like the sprints in practice, Russell County has been just the smallest of margins away from reaching its goal, losing the past two games by one point each — 21-20 at Valley and 15-14 at Dothan.
But, like they exhibited in practice, no one is giving up hope.
“It’s a total team effort,” Jones said. “Everyone’s accountable, just like on Friday night. We win the game together and we lose the game together. We’re close, we’ve just got to get over the hump.”
It’s a strange place for the Warriors to be in right now, having shown so much improvement over the past two seasons and yet still mired in the losing streak that has lasted over 1,000 days. Jones utilized the oft-used adage that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but also stressed the fact that there has been much more go right than go wrong for the Warriors so far.
They had a chance to beat Valley but lost by a single point because of four lost fumbles. Against Dothan, Jones said he thought his team played as good as it could for 46 minutes, but then couldn’t close out the game before losing, again, by a single point.
“We were ahead 14-0 (against Dothan) and our guys were saying, ‘Coach, we’ve never been here,’ ” Jones said. “We’ve never done this. And they haven’t. That’s a challenge.”
But Jones believes it’s a challenge they can overcome because of the way his players have responded. On Monday, a day off of school due to Labor Day, the players were back on the field at 9 a.m., working again toward trying to get a victory on Friday night.
Jones said it’s that level of commitment that has impressed him so much about this group this season.
“In our mind, we should be 2-1,” he said. “But we’re not 2-1. We’re 0-3. But We’ve played a lot more positive than we have negative. Our thing is that we’ve just got to keep fighting. Just keep fighting.”