Daily photo by Brennen Smith|
From left, Chris Ricks, Keenan Porter, Shannon Nance and Carlos Holden are four Hazlewood players who have the Golden Bears off to a 4-0 start. The Golden Bears are ranked fifth in Class 1A and travel to Muscle Shoals on Friday. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
‘Team unity’ concept has Hazlewood off to 4-0 start
By Brooke Milam
TOWN CREEK — In some ways, this year’s Hazlewood High football team is a lot like strong teams from Town Creek of the past — loaded with talented individuals and drawing attention from around the state.
But fifth-year head coach Aaron Goode said he sees something different in his 31-member varsity squad this year, and it’s what he thinks will define the season.
“The team unity,” Goode said. “Togetherness is the key. It’s not just individuals.”
The Class 1A school has 11 football state championships, the most of any school in the state, along with three runner-up finishes, but Hazlewood’s last state title came in 2000, and players said they want the disappointment recent teams have experienced by not winning a title to end.
“We’re getting things back to the old Hazlewood — the way things used to be,” senior quarterback/safety Keginald Harris said.
The Golden Bears are on the right track, undefeated at 4-0 and ranked No. 5 in the state.
And even playing for a program with such a rich history, 11 Golden Bears seniors haven’t had a 4-0 start in their varsity careers. Goode pointed out that the 2000 Hazlewood team that won the 1A state championship didn’t begin 4-0.
“We’ve had good teams, but it’s been awhile since we’ve had a start like this,” Goode said.
It’s Hazlewood’s defense that has drawn the most attention this season, giving up just nine points in four weeks, including three straight shutouts to begin the year.
But in the theme of teamwork, Harris said the Golden Bears’ goal isn’t just to be known as a stingy defense.
“We don’t want people to look at Hazlewood’s defense or Hazlewood’s offense — we want it to be all of the above,” Harris said.
Lost in the string of shutouts by its defense, Hazlewood’s offense has quietly improved its totals each week as well, averaging 36 points a game the past two weeks after a 13-point average per game in the first two weeks of the season.
Senior running back/cornerback D.J. Jones has scored six touchdowns this year, including three touchdowns in last week’s 28-9 win over previously unbeaten Brilliant.
“We’ve been coming along and getting better every week,” Jones said. “How well we’ve done on defense has influenced us on offense and motivated us.”
Jones isn’t alone in his tasks on both sides of the ball. Eight Golden Bears are two-way players, who say their success defending hasn’t been a surprise this season.
“Our whole team was back on defense except for linebackers, and we felt like we could fill those positions,” Jones said.
Senior Carlos Holden and junior Shannon Nance have stepped in at linebacker this year.
“I think (Holden and Nance) have done a great job in that spot,” Jones said.
Golden Bears defensive coordinator Nicholas Vinson played on the 1995 Hazlewood team that set a school record with 10 shutouts. That season ended with a 7-6 loss to Clay County in the state championship game. The assistants bring plenty of experience. The players said it has been great motivation.
“I think they love us and they want us to do good, so they push us very hard,” Jones said.
Goode said he’s got “nine to 10” assistants who have been loyal to the program, helping out on a given day.
“They’ve been here — they didn’t just come on this year when we started winning,” Goode said.
Hazlewood has moved down the checklist of righting its wrongs from last season, when it finished 8-4, falling in the second round of the playoffs to Donoho 13-12.
The Golden Bears first avenged a season-opening loss to Tarrant last season with a 7-0 shutout this year. Hazlewood also made good on last season’s Class 1A, Region 8 loss to Speake with a 19-0 shutout.
“Next up is Muscle Shoals,” Goode said, smiling.
Class 5A Muscle Shoals beat Hazlewood 14-3 last season.
Hazlewood will play at Muscle Shoals on Friday. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
“So far, they’ve met expectations, and it started in the summer and all the way back to the spring,” Goode said.
“They’ve finally realized that even though you’re talented, if you don’t work hard, teams will beat you because they will be stronger.”
Goode said he had so many players showing up in the offseason that he had to move workouts from a small building on the edge of the football facility to a larger place on campus.
Goode said his players this season are “the best we’ve ever had at listening to me and my coaches” and “know we’ve got to work hard and keep the team concept.”
Region and state championships are goals set for each Hazlewood team at the beginning of every season, but Goode think this year isn’t like the others.
“I believe this team is a little different,” Goode said. “I don’t think that this is a team that will only talk the talk, but they’ll walk the walk. I really believe that.”
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