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Columbus High’s football program is better than it was, but ‘still a work in progress’

Columbus High QB Caleb Bailey tries to get past several Jordan defenders, including Jaden Jordan (4) and George McElroy (8) in a game last month.
Columbus High QB Caleb Bailey tries to get past several Jordan defenders, including Jaden Jordan (4) and George McElroy (8) in a game last month. mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

When Phil Marino took over the Columbus High football program, it had compiled just one winning season in the previous 14.

It took Marino seven seasons before the Blue Devils broke through last year and won seven games and earned a postseason berth. It was the most wins for a Columbus team since 1994 when the Blue Devils won nine.

Marino, whose 2-2 Blue Devils face rival Hardaway on Friday night, says attitude was the biggest thing that needed changing when he arrived.

“There was a losing attitude — that was the biggest thing we had to fight through in those first four years,” Marino said. “I had to get that out of the players’ minds. I saw how our kids responded when they scored upon two or three times. But that has not occurred lately. Our players feel like they are in any game and can come back if they get down.”

Those first four years were difficult as the Blue Devils went 2-8, 2-8, 2-8 and 0-10. But it was class of freshmen in 2012 that gave Marino a glimpse of what could be. That freshman class included Essang Bassey, who is now playing at Wake Forest, and Derrick James, who is now playing at Austin Peay.

“When Essang, Derrick, that class came in, that is when it started to change,” Marino said. “The attitude was different, and the win total started to go up.

“But it is still a work in progress. We want to be a program that can win 7-9 games every year.”

The Blue Devils scored a big win over Shaw last week in their Region 1-4A opener. Friday night’s game against Hardaway is another one that could prove pivotal in the race for the region’s four playoff berths.

The Blue Devils have scored 54 points a game in its two wins (62-21 over Jordan and 46-26 over Shaw), but they managed just seven in the two losses to Upson-Lee (20-0) and Callaway (28-7).

“Right now, the penalties are killing us. We are shooting ourselves in the foot, especially in the red zone,” Marino said. “We have got to get that cleaned up. We have some missed assignments, too, but mostly, it is the penalties.

“We are moving the ball well between the 20 and the 20. But we have to be a lot better finishing. We have left a lot of points on the field.”

Kevin Price: 706-320-4493, @lesports

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