Inside the Swarm – Blue Ridge

By: Paul Davis

Pre-game. “We’re going to be on a short time line today,” began Coach Tommy Bobo. “We will meet in the gym at 4:15. Big E (Eric Young - Tennessee) and Curtis (Rice- South Carolina) are here today because they care about this team. They sat where you sat. They want to see what kind of players are coming behind them. This is their first time back. This is your only chance to make a first time impression with them.”

At this point, Coach Bobo introduced former linebacker coach and now Assistant Principal at Union High, Floyd Lyles.

“I am excited to be here,” began Lyles. “This means a lot to me. I’ll never be the same because I met Jesus Christ. I know who I can be because of whom I belong to. I know about my old life and how it changed because of Jesus. I want to talk to you about three things. First, trusting in God. Second, being confident of your identity. And third, knowing who you are.

First, I learned that God could do anything. God changed my life. I wanted to be ‘cool.’ But I leaned that a real man is like Jesus. A real man does the right thing regardless of what the boyz have to say. I was hard for me. I’ve been there. People care about you on this team. I couldn’t do what I do or feel the way I feel if I hadn’t been changed by Jesus. He made me what I am.

“Second, confidence. You have to know who you are. As a man. As a person.

“Third, you need to reflect on who you are. Union has a great football program. It was and is still special to these two guys. And Rashaad Jackson at Clemson feels the same way. These guys play in front of tens of thousands every game. Big E hears ‘Rocky Top’ every game. But they still remember what it was like to be a football player at Union.

“Some of you don’t like criticism. You take it personal. It’s not personal. It’s about trying to help you get better. These guys understood that we cared and wanted to improve. If I saw ‘E’ walking with sagging pants and I told him to pick them up, he would. A team has character and bands together as champions.
“You are the first group of guys who has never been in Williams-Brice Stadium. You don’t understand the price these two guys paid to get there. It takes commitment. I told the seniors last week that I had watched Clinton get off the bus a couple of weeks ago and they were totally focused. The last time I saw that in Union was when we earned these rings. Those teams had character.

“Seniors, the playoffs start tonight. You need to approach this game as if it could be the last one. Play like every play will be the last play you’ll ever make. The ultimate prize for us is the State Championships. And the players on our championship teams looked and acted like champions.

“Seniors, you are guaranteed three games. The playoffs are not guaranteed. Play like this is the last game you’ll ever play. In life, the ultimate prize is not the State Championships but Jesus Christ. Having Christ in my life was the most important decision I ever made. There is nothing like living for God.

“The Pittsburg Steelers said last week that their ‘new team’ started that game. You need to make a statement that the new Yellow Jackets start tonight. Have fun. Play hard. I believe in you. Get ready to play on the field and off the field. Remember, no individual can win a State Championship. Only a team.”

Just before departure. “Good job getting ready on time,” began Bobo. “You know how important this game is. This is a playoff game for you. You know you have two more games after this one. Character. Some say that sports can build character. But I think sports can reveal character. You are going to have to fight for what you said you wanted back in January. You have to perform as one unit.”

Just before kickoff. “While the co-captains are in the middle of the field, the seniors will stand at the numbers near our sidelines holding hands as a unit,” began Bobo. 

“We are backed into a corner. You will decide what happens. I can’t get inside your head. You have to do this. Everyone on this team has a role, an important role, that has to be done. The seniors have left for the coin toss. They are counting on you to give them the chance to continue playing. How much football do you have left? Blue Ridge truly believes you can’t play as a team or beat them.”

At the half. “We are half way there,” began Bobo. “Twenty-four minutes to go. They won’t quit and give up. We are coming together as a team. We get the ball at the start of the second half. Defense has played a great half. But we did that against Clinton and lost during the second half.”

Coach Kevin Lancaster warned the offensive line about a similar situation in 1989 when he was playing. “We had North Augusta 21-0 at the half and lost the game. They went on to win the State Championships.”

Coach Bobo reminded the Jackets that three Tiger plays could make the score 21-21. “We have established the run. We want to continue to do what we want, when we want.”

At the end. “You did it,” began Bobo. “You played a great first half and third quarter. Several of you have played both ways tonight. Some of you who were no longer starters, got in and played well. You pulled together tonight and you must continue to do that every game. Have a good weekend. If you are not sure whether it is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to do something, don’t do it.”

Quick Hitters. Coach B. J. Moore cracked on Big E for getting a face mask penalty on offense...after the devotion, the Jackets held a player-only team meeting… co-captains for the game, selected by the juniors, were linebacker Chad Johnson and quarterback Cameron Willis… Tyler Page kicked his first extra point and was mobbed by the team as he came off the sidelines…the Jackets were the most focused and intense they have been all year…the sideline players were constantly encouraging their teammates on the field, something often lacking in previous games…adding Devon Thompson to the backfield as a fullback invigorated the offense and diversified the play selection and available check-offs by quarterback Cameron Willis…the offensive line performed the best it had all year, allowing the running game to dominate the play…and only ten passes for a Union team?

The journey continues. J. L. Mann. Here.


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