ATLANTA — Dexter Wood said Friday’s state title win for Buford High was the sweetest win of them all, not because of the talent on the field — last year’s state runner-up team had more — but because of its success despite tragedies and challenges this year’s team faced.
“All the championships have been sweet,” said Wood, the school’s athletic director and former head football coach. “But I don’t think any have been as sweet as this with all we’ve had to overcome.”
The Wolves held off St. Pius X 10-3 on Friday in the GHSA Class AAA state championship game for their fifth title in six years and eighth in the last 12, a year after what was arguably one of the most talented teams in Buford history fell to Calhoun in overtime in the Georgia Dome.
Thirty seniors from that 2010 team graduated, at the same time as Buford was rising from AA to AAA in the latest GHSA realignment.
Then real tragedy struck, as assistant coach Ryan Daniels collapsed and died of a heart attack in January, the first of three tragedies during the 2011 year for the school.
In September, varsity basketball player Adam Smith collapsed while conditioning and died.
In October, former Buford and Air Force football player Devin Durden, son of girls basketball coach Gene Durden, died from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident.
All three were honored on Buford’s home field during the season, Smith at the 10-yard line, Durden at the 46 and Daniels in the home end zone.
The players also wore jerseys in the title game with the R and D in the green Buford on their chests written in gold in honor of Daniels.
“We put him (Daniels) on our chests, and he’s always with us,” said senior lineman Josh Cardiello. “He’s in a better place now, But we know he’s been looking over us this season, guiding us through this year.”
On the victory podium, the players chanted “RD, RD,” as did the crowd in the stands.
After a personal loss like that, a loss on the field to Gainesville in Week 2 and a pair of forfeits caused by playing an ineligible player at the end of two blowouts wasn’t about to derail this team.
Neither was being held to its lowest point total in a game since a 14-0 loss to Carver-Columbus in the 2010 regular season, or having to come back from halftime deficits in the quarterfinal and semifinal games.
This Wolves team was playing for something bigger than just another title, they were playing for an entire community.
“There was some kind of intangible depth to this team,” Wood said.