Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Rob Ezell, left, and Allen Creasy have plenty of reasons to smile. The pair were instrumental in bringing the Class 5A state football championship to Athens High School. Ezell is The Daily's Class 4A-6A player of the year, and Creasy is The Daily's Class 4A-6A coach of the year.
Class 4A-6A leaders
Rob Ezell, Allen Creasey
State title run helps Athens pair
land top player, coach honors
By Brooke Milam
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2460
After coming close to high school football's most coveted trophy the previous two years, the Athens Golden Eagles finally sealed the deal this season.
After advancing to the semifinals in 2004 and the quarterfinals last year, Athens beat Eufaula 10-7 in the Class 5A state championship game and put an exclamation point on the career of its standout quarterback Rob Ezell and his 16 senior teammates.
"The only way we were going to be able to be OK with the end this season, and the seniors' career was to do it with a state championship," Athens coach Allen Creasy said.
"And our success had a lot to do with the team's belief that Rob is going to make the play. What he's brought to our team is the belief that we've always got a chance."
For spearheading the Golden Eagles state championship run, Ezell is The Daily's Class 4A-6A player of the year, and Creasy is the 4A-6A coach of the year.
Ezell also earned the honor as a junior, making him the first back-to-back winner since 1978 when The Daily began giving the award annually. Creasy won the coaching honor in 2004.
"We had bumps in the road, just like anyone else, where we had to focus," Creasy said. "But the coaching staff we have works very hard and the players know and appreciate that. They always knew we were trying to make them better."
This year's state title marked the first for the Golden Eagles since 1976, and Ezell said his team was motivated this season by the belief that they could bring the prize back to Athens.
"Athens has had a lot of good groups, but we really wanted to be the class that brought the state championship back here," Ezell said.
Ezell passed for 2,700 and 22 touchdowns and rushed for 843 yards and six scores this season.
"I think our team fed off our offense and it helped our defense really play inspired," Ezell said.
Ezell won the Alabama Sports Writers Association's 5A back of the year and was a finalist for Mr. Football. He finished his career as the state's all-time leader in total offense.
"The thing that drives him to the level he has reached is that he's extremely competitive in everything he does," Creasy said. "That competitive fire and refuse-to-lose mentality has allowed him to get the most out of his talent."
It's not something new. Ezell has made big plays for Athens since his freshman season when he was a part-time starter.
"We brought Rob up as a freshman and he came up competing for the job immediately," Creasy said. "We knew then he had something special, and he wasn't going to back away from a challenge."
Ezell's mentality is a direct reflection of his coaches, who never let the Golden Eagles' focus waver despite two losses late in the regular season. After starting 5-0, Athens headed into the postseason unranked with a 7-3 record.
"We never felt like we had an insurmountable task," Creasy said. "From a coaching standpoint, we never focused on how long the road was. We just thought about what we needed to do each day. With the players that we had and their experience, we were able to say, 'Today was a bad day. Come back and work hard tomorrow.'
"And they would understand."
Creasy said that factors out of the Golden Eagles' control held them back in past playoffs, including injuries, which took their toll.
However, this year his team avoided major injuries until senior linebacker Jeff Leonard tore a knee ligament in the semifinals. Instead of using the loss of a team leader as an excuse, Creasy and his staff shuffled the lineup to fill holes, playing several players out of their normal positions in the championship game. The players responded.
"I could point directly to the fact that we stayed healthy this season for the most part," Creasy said. "Injuries piled up on us late last year and even this season, when we did have some injuries, we regrouped."
It's no secret that Athens had the talent to win a state title, but living up to the potential might have been the greatest accomplishment this season.
"We wanted to win a state championship so bad," Ezell said. "One player can't win a state championship — it takes a whole team. I had to have great players around for us to even have a chance to put up the great numbers we had and do what we did this season."
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