Tiger Turnaround

Published 10:29 pm Monday, October 27, 2008

It’s been a complete turnaround for the Straughn Tigers (7-2, 5-2 in Class 3A, Region 1) as they are now completing their regular season and getting ready for the playoffs.

The Tigers will play Slocomb (7-2, 6-1 in Class 3A, Region 2) in Slocomb next Friday night, but head coach Trent Taylor said right now the team’s focus is on completing the season.

“Right now, our focus is on Red Level,” Taylor said. “We haven’t played well enough in the last two weeks to overlook anybody. We know that Red Level is in the same boat that we were in a couple of years ago. The talent is there, it’s just youth that has been their nemesis.

“Those kids are going to, in a year or two, be a tremendous little football team,” he said. “Although we have made a great turnaround, we’re not to the point where we’re overlooking anybody. We’re excited about being in the playoffs and we look forward to that next Friday after we play Red Level on Thursday.”

Two seasons ago, when Straughn finished the season 4-8, Taylor said his team then was limited in areas.

“I think when you look two years ago, we won three football games and made it to the playoffs,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that that group played hard every week. We were just very, very limited. There have been a couple of times since I have been at Straughn that we realistically didn’t have a running back, a kid that has a God-given ability.

“Going into the spring prior to that, we only had two,” he said. “We lost one of them to a knee injury in the spring and the other got hurt in the very first game of the season and really and truly never got well. So, you can almost say we played that entire season with no running backs.”

It wasn’t until last year when Taylor said he started to see “a little bit of a change.”

“We certainly played hard and were playing as a team,” Taylor said. “As I just mentioned about Red Level, we were young in some key areas. That showed up a lot on Friday nights.”

As far as this season, Taylor said the difference between the team now and two seasons ago was the players’ attitude in the offseason.

“This year, I’ve said several times that there was a different demeanor all during the off-season,” he said. “You could just tell that these kids were different. Every team has its own personality, but they seemed to be driven and that was the seniors, juniors and sophomores. They all had what you needed.

“We had two or three emotional games opening with Andalusia, playing Cottage Hill in game three and being behind like we were,” he said. “Opp, game five, and I think they showed what they are capable of in those three ball games. If you said, is there any one thing that was the key to us being so much better this year, I don’t know if you can pinpoint any one thing. I think it was just a culmination of a lot of things. More than anything, it was work ethic and desire.”

Taylor added that the team started gaining confidence really early this season and said it began to grow in a “snowball” effect.

“In athletics, confidence is a big key,” Taylor said. “If you can ever get it, it snowballs. The problem is when you’re coming off the two years like we’ve had it’s hard to get it. They just played early on without it and once they got it, they really used it to snowball.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that first game was huge when we were able to play like we did offensively,” he said. “I think it really gave our entire football team a lot of confidence. From that point, we started realizing that we have a chance to do something.”

In addition to gaining confidence during the season, Taylor said the team has met their “little goals” each week.

“In athletics, your little goals are to win the next game,” Taylor said. “I think our kids have certainly done that. I think that for this team in making the playoffs was a team goal. Obviously, we wanted to make it as the No. 1 seed. Two weeks ago, we still had that opportunity.

“We made a couple of hiccups right there and we’re still in,” he said. “We told our kids that there are a lot of ways to get there. Just like if I leave here and travel to Andalusia, there’s two or three routes I could go, but we’re going to end up in the same place. It wasn’t a path that we wanted to take or thought we were going to take, but we’ve got to stay focused on that.”

Straughn’s only two losses came against No. 1 T.R. Miller and Luverne.