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Hartselle football coach Bob Godsey leads his team through a film session as the Tigers prepared for region rival J.O. Johnson of Huntsville.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Hartselle football coach Bob Godsey leads his team through a film session as the Tigers prepared for region rival J.O. Johnson of Huntsville.

Home of gridiron history
Fieldhouse a reminder of Hartselle's expectations

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Every time Bob Godsey looks out his office window, he's reminded of why the community places so much emphasis on winning football games.

But, that's OK, he said.

In an era when some head coaches prefer to be detached from the past, Godsey embraces it, even if it adds pressure on him as the head football coach here.

"It's good for me and the players," he said. "The players need to know what it means to wear the red helmet. I want them to feel the sense of responsibility and to do the right thing, on and off the field."

Wall boards and framed pictures in the team room display some of the most important dates and events in the program's history.

Decatur city champs?

In one corner, for example, a board proclaims Hartselle as the eight-time Decatur city champion.

"These are the seasons where we beat both Decatur and Austin in the same year," Godsey explained. "We think we may have beaten both of them in another year. We're checking on that."

On another wall, a larger board has the senior classes that graduated with the best three-year record. In case you're wondering, the seniors on the 1981 team own that record. They won 34 games and played in two state championship games.

Above Godsey's office windows, a board lists the years Hartselle appeared in the state playoffs. Since 1974, the Tigers have had 25 post-season appearances.

State title claim

While it has no state championship teams, the community did argue in 1920 that Hartselle — then Morgan County High School -- should be state champs.

Before the days of area and regional champions and a playoff system, Alabama had mythical state champions selected primarily by the National Sports News Service.

In 1920, for example, Hartselle went to Birmingham for a series of games. The Tigers lost to Central of Birmingham. Jefferson County High defeated Central. In the last game of the season, Hartselle beat Jefferson County High. All three schools claimed to be state champions, but the sports service selected Sidney Lanier because of its 7-0-1 record.

As was the case in almost every community in the area, Hartselle used football as a vehicle to lure young men to high school, especially after a statewide survey identified a high percentage of illiterate men in the area.

The Tigers played their first football game in 1916 against Moulton with what a local paper described as some "unsavory" characters.

From the beginning, players on both sides pushed and punched. "One final fight in the third quarter ended the game," the paper reported.

With more emphasis on sportsmanship, Moulton and Hartselle played the following season in Decatur. Hartselle won the Thanksgiving Day game 18-8.

But, the fighting days were not over for the schools. In 1922, with the score tied 6-6, a Hartselle player identified as Captain Thompson picked up a fumbled punt in the third quarter and ran for what he thought was a touchdown. A referee's whistle ended the play. The ball was returned to the spot where Thompson recovered it.

This escalated tension between the teams, and because of fighting, the game ended in the middle of the fourth quarter.

"The game was marred from start to finish by an almost continuous squabble," a local reporter wrote.

Moulton did not get its first win over Hartselle until a 12-0 decision in 1927.

Godsey, who coached at Decatur High and Brooks before arriving at Hartselle in 2003, was familiar with the school's football tradition.

When he accepted the head coaching position, assistant Larry Peck told him about the history that had been painted over.

Godsey immediately sought ways to have it returned. He decided on boards because they can be saved, if the walls are painted again.

"We strive every day to keep the tradition going, and these boards are reminders to our players of what they have to live up to," Godsey said.

As a coach, Godsey has lived up to the tradition. Three of his four teams have appeared in the state playoffs. The 2007 Tigers are in a position to make the post season.

His 2006 team also produced two of the most memorable wins in Hartselle history. The first came against Cullman in a regular-season game where the Tigers had more than 200 penalty yards.

In the final minute, Shawn Jackson caught a long pass from quarterback Seth Watson. Jackson broke several tackles and scored the winning touchdown.

"That was Shawn's only reception and touchdown in his career," Godsey said.

A few weeks later in the first round of the state playoffs, Hartselle played Benjamin Russell, a team with the largest linemen in the state.

"We were physically overmatched, but we beat them," Godsey said. "That was a good moment for Hartselle football."

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