Building on last year's 4-2 season, the Hephzibah Middle School Rebels clinched the Richmond County Middle School Football Championship with a win over the Glenn Hills Middle School Seminoles 16-6 on Nov. 1.
"Glenn Hills was a very good team," said Quincy O'Bryant, an assistant coach for the Rebels. "After they scored on their opening drive, we turned on our defense. We've never been down all year, so it made them go out harder."
The Rebels went 6-0 during the regular season to earn a spot in the playoffs, something they have not accomplished since 1992, O'Bryant said. The Rebels defeated Langford Middle School 32-12 for a berth in the championship game.
Head coach Anthony Stephens said he believes experience and speed were important to the Rebels' successful season.
"From what I've seen, the amount of speed and athleticism of our team was key," he said. "We had an offensive line who played together last year. They really played well together and did all the dirty work."
Stephens said the team's weakness early in the season was its defensive backs.
"Our defensive backs have developed throughout the year," the coach said. "It's the area where we saw the most growth, and their coverage was much better by the end of the season. It's always the toughest area to develop."
The Rebels offensive machine was driven by Terrell Woods, the team's leading rusher.
"He's big and fast," Stephens said. "His skill and running style reminds me a lot of Herschel Walker. He's a power runner, fast and hard to bring down. He's got a good eye and always finds an opening."
Stephens said that Terrell was a success because of the team's fullback and running backs, who were strong blockers.
Intelligence, discipline and sacrifice were the traits the coaches stressed throughout the season, Stephens said. Study hall was required each day except Fridays, and teachers would notify the coaches about each player's grades and attitude in the classroom. The players were required to pass five of six classes to play football. Half the team made the A/B honor roll during the fall, Stephens said.
Bobby Liggins, 14, who plays fullback and linebacker, knows the importance of success in the classroom.
"I learned to do the right thing in class," Bobby said. "We have to stick together. It's not just you out there, it's the whole team."
Alex McKellar, also 14, said he looks up to the Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who is known for his leadership and humility.
"I like the way he carries himself, both on and off the field," Alex said.
O'Bryant said discipline is the glue that holds a team together.
"You got guys out there who are willing to listen to you and go the extra mile for you," he said. "You teach them to rely on one another."
Reach Rebecca A. Smith at (706) 823-3552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.