Friday’s loss to Winona may have been an emotional one for many of the Blue Devils, but in the grand scheme of things, it was a sign of a big step in the right direction for a program that went from 2-8-1 just four seasons ago to 11-3 this year.Following the game, head coach Brad Embry tried to comfort his players by letting them know just what they have meant to the city and the school.
“You have restored pride in this football program and that will never be taken away,” he said. “I’ll take that to my grave. Be proud…You seniors will not be forgotten for what you did.”
His words did not fall on deaf ears.
“We restored a lot of pride. I’ve never seen that many fans in my life, ever since my ninth-grade year,” senior linebacker J.D. Fondon said. “They’re building up from here. They’re going to be even better next year. If they work out during the summer and put their mind to it, they’ll be back.”
In addition to a new attitude, arguably the biggest change in Water Valley’s program over the last three seasons has come on defense.
In 2007, the Blue Devils surrendered an average of 35.2 points per game and yielded 42 points or more five times. This season, the Blue Devils surrendered a total of 12 points per game and only allowed a team to score more than 21 points on them once.
Fondon, along with fellow senior Eric Buckley and junior linebacker C.J. Jackson, helped anchor a defensive unit — affectionately known as the “Wrecking Crew” — that allowed the seventh-fewest points out of 49 teams in Class 3A this season.
“We got a lot of kids out there that can run and hit and play with great effort,” Embry said.
My tenure at the EAGLE has coincided with Embry’s at Water Valley and so I can say from personal experience that it has been impressive to be around the Blue Devils program.
What has stood out, maybe more-so than anything, is the emotion the Blue Devils play with.
Maybe pride is a better way of putting it.
Three years ago, the Blue Devils were a team in transition and it showed on the field as they finished the season 5-6.
This season, the Blue Devils played with a confidence, a swagger, that I’m told had been missing from the program for quite some time.
That pride was never more evident than after Friday’s game.
The loss to Winona was obviously a painful one for the players and the way it happened was uncharacteristic of the Blue Devils. But the emotion the players displayed during and after the game will stick with me for a while.
“Yeah we restored pride to the program, but still, we didn’t get the ultimate goal of what we all wanted,” Jackson said, fighting back tears. “I just feel bad because I couldn’t get it for the seniors.”
Several years ago, the final game of the season would have come to a conclusion and players would have been sad, sure, but they would have moved past the emotion within the night.
That’s not the case with this Blue Devils team, which was obvious when one senior paused by the bin where he was to drop his jersey for the last time, held his blue jersey out to admire it once more, smiled and then dropped it off as a teammate came by with a comforting pat around his shoulders.
With seasons such as these, where it’s obvious bigger and better things are on the horizon, I can’t seem to get the saying, “the sweet ain’t as sweet without the sour,” out of my head.
Thinking back just four years doesn’t make Friday’s outcome so sour now does it? (November 22, 2010, Page 4B)