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High school football: Cherokee Bluff enjoying welcome success in program's second season
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Cherokee Bluff running back Jayquan Smith breaks free from Johnson defenders for a big gain Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, during the first half of their win over Johnson High at the Cherokee Bluff stadium. - photo by Scott Rogers

As the Cherokee Bluff football team prepares for the final game of its second-ever regular season, things are looking a lot different for the Bears than they were this time last year. 

Then, the team was 0-9 and had fallen out of playoff contention long ago. Now, it’s got a chance. 

Cherokee Bluff sits at 3-6 on the year, with a 2-3 region record that has it right on the cusp of claiming the fourth postseason spot out of Region 7-3A with an extremely important contest against Dawson County on tap this Friday. 

And while the stakes have certainly changed since the Bears first ever game last August, Cherokee Bluff coach Tommy Jones said the team’s preparation and planning have not. 

“Our goal every time we go out and perform on a Friday night is for us to take a step forward as a program,” Jones said. “Whatever that looks like, that’s what we try to do. We realize there’s a lot at stake this Friday night, but our approach is going to be exactly the same as it’s been in the previous 19 games that we’ve played here at Cherokee Bluff.”

Cherokee Bluff’s jump in success is a welcome change for Jones and his players, but it’s not something the team has focused on or even really addressed over the course of the season. Jones emphasizes the importance of consistency in preparation in the days leading up to Friday and letting the gameday results work themselves out. 

“We talk a lot about an elite work ethic, elite practice habits,” he said. “We want to create that championship mindset about the way we go about our business, because we believe that those types of things will translate into wins. You never know when success is going to come tangibly, but you believe if you do the little things right day in and day out, eventually that’s going to happen.”

Even still, Jones can’t ignore the positive impact stringing together a couple of wins has had on his players. 

Though he likes to look at the process as a whole rather than focusing on any defining moments of the season, Jones said practices have jumped up in intensity since the team has started finding some rhythm on the field, and after 12 straight losses to start the program off, victorious Friday nights have been sweeter than ever. 

“Having a chance to see our kids excited after the handful of wins that we’ve been able to have so far, that’s just validation that the relationships we built with our players and them being able to see their hard work pay off,” he said. “Obviously, that’s very satisfying.”

Of course, the work is not yet done for the Bears. Despite significant improvement, the team still needs a home win against a 6-2 Dawson County team that has won three of its last four games to even have a chance at making playoffs.

But Jones and the Cherokee Bluff players aren’t going to get in the habit of looking ahead now. Rather, the team is going to go about its business as if it was preparing for any normal game — neither contemplating potential future outcomes nor dwelling on past successes or failures. 

It’s the type of stay-in-the-moment mentality that Jones has preached since he was first chosen to mold the Bears football program from the ground up. And with such a large jump in success from Year 1 to Year 2, it’s a formula that Cherokee Bluff is sticking to. 

“That’s that championship mindset that we’re talking about,” Jones said. “We want to prepare and compete like a champion every week. We’ll let the results take care of themselves.”

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