There's a noticeable upswing in excitement on the Soddy-Daisy football practice field this week. A bit more pep in the players' step, and deservedly so.
Afterall, it had been nearly a full calendar year since the Trojans had experienced the satisfaction that comes with a Friday night victory. The team ended last season, and the coaching tenure of Kevin Orr, with six straight losses, finishing 2-8. That was followed by a summer spent adjusting to new coach Justin Barnes' up-tempo workout plan and a preseason of wondering whether all that sweat and hard work would pay off.
While last Friday's storms pushed kickoff back a day, the answer to that question was a resounding yes as the Trojans used a second-half rally to upset Hixson on the road.
The immediate result of that win was validation for everything Barnes and his new staff had been preaching to the players throughout the offseason. The confidence from such a win could carry over into tonight's game against rival Red Bank and springboard the Trojans into this season's surprise team.
"We've got a whole new attitude," said Trojans fullback/linebacker Austin Goins, one of 18 seniors. "Last year we kind of gave up at one point and just went through the motions. Coach Barnes came in and changed everything from the way we work out to how we practice.
"We felt like we could win last week, but after actually going out there and doing it, we feel like if we keep working in practice and getting better, and execute the way our coaches teach us, we can play with a lot of teams. We have a confidence we haven't had in a while here. Winning is like a drug. Once you get that feeling, you just want it more and more."
Dealing with the fragile emotions of teenagers, it's a funny thing how one play can turn the momentum of an entire game, and one game can transform a season.
After trailing for the better part of the first three quarters last Saturday, the Trojans turned the game around when sophomore quarterback Hunter Maynor, with a Hixson defender holding his legs, managed to hit Levi Thornton on a pass that wound up going 85 yards for the tying touchdown.
Soddy-Daisy's defense then forced and recovered a fumble at the Wildcats 6 and quickly turned that into the go-ahead score. From there, the Trojans dominated the fourth quarter, pulling away with two more unanswered TDs.
Through the years, area coaches who have successfully turned around a program's fortunes have all echoed the same ingredient for what kickstarted the team's rebound -- beat a team you're not expected to. Pull one upset and the kids will believe they can play with anybody.
"For the program it was one of the most important things that could happen because it showed our kids what we've been telling them is true," said Barnes, the former two-time all-city quarterback at Red Bank, who later tied UTC and Southern Conference records by throwing for six TDs in one game. "These seniors have a lot of experience, so I stepped into a great situation. They've been through a lot the last couple of years so they were ready to see a change on the field. That helped them to whole-heartedly buy into what we were telling them.
"That one big play really gave us the shot in the arm we needed. It gave the defense a burst and it gave the offense the confidence it needed to finish drives. It turned the whole game around and now hopefully the guys will build off that against Red Bank. That was a great win, but the main thing everybody needs to understand is we can't afford to look in the mirror. If we're going to rebuild the program here, we have to keep focusing on executing in that next game."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.