How does this year's Washington County team compare with the 1994 club that won the Class AA championship?
When it comes to the young defense and one rising Golden Hawks star, coach Rick Tomberlin draws a pretty impressive parallel.
"We've said he could be another Takeo Spikes if he paid the price, and he has," said Tomberlin of 6-foot-2 junior defensive end Jesse Miller. "It's probably not fair to make a comparison between Jesse and Takeo or even to compare this team to the '94 team. But if we win a championship, I think it will be hard not to compare them. Both are special."
If not to better its predecessors, Washington County (14-0) travels today to Americus, looking to equal the feat that the Spikes-led Hawks accomplished.
The No. 1-ranked Hawks face the No. 2 Panthers (14-0) tonight at 8 for the Class AA title at Finklea-Robinson Field.
In today's other state title games, Valdosta (13-1) hosts Brookwood (12-2) in Class AAAA; Thomas County Central (13-1) hosts Atlanta Lakeside (13-1) in Class AAA, and Putnam County (12-2) travels to Macon County (14-0) for the Class A crown.
Though some current players dislike it when comparisons are made to the '94 champs, Miller says it is a driving force.
"People said all year that we were good, but not as good as the '94 team because we're so young," said Miller, the leader on an all-junior defensive line featuring Vic Miller, Tyrie Williams and Derrick Sanders. "That urged all of us on all year. We knew
that if we prepared right for each game, this could be our year."
At first, Tomberlin feared that calling Miller the next Takeo Spikes - the former prep All-American who was a second-team college All-American selection at linebacker for Auburn this season - would backfire. But Miller has more than lived up to his promise.
"I think he's actually farther along at this stage than Takeo was," Tomberlin said. "He's got all the talent in the world, but it took a lot of hard work and commitment to get to where he is now."
Senior all-state candidate at safety Chris Horne, the lone remaining starter from the 1994 team, agrees that the
comparisons are unfair, but deserving, nonetheless.
"We've held our own," said Horne. "The younger guys have really played better than anyone expected when the season began, and the defense has really been the heart of this team."
So, how does this team, this defense, compare?
"We think we've got the best defense in the state," Miller said. "Americus will be a major test for us, but we're ready. This is our year."