When Cherokee Bluff head coach Tommy Jones was first hired to lead the brand new program full of primarily 9th and 10th graders, he knew the road to success ahead of him would be a long one.
And while the Bears have yet to notch their first victory through six tries, Jones believes they’re getting closer by the week.
“We feel like we’re making progress,” he said. “We’re seeing young guys grow and improve, and every week has been a radical difference in our players and their understanding and the effort that they give and their execution.”
Jones said that results of player development up and down the roster have shown in the film room, if not on Friday night scoreboards.
His sentiment was backed up by quarterback Connor Boyd — a senior who is one of the few upperclassmen on the team. Boyd said he thinks an increasingly improved focus during practices has led the team to consistent growth as the weeks have progressed.
“I think we’re definitely executing a lot better on offense,” Boyd said. “Everything’s looking a little more crisp.”
Still, with the school searching for an elusive first win in its inaugural season, Jones said he’s shifted the emphasis away from the score and more to the minute details.
“Our focus has to be on doing the best we can possibly do on the very next play, on winning every play,” he said. “We’ve got to break down the game into small, incremental parts and see progress in those areas.”
That focus will be critical for the team as it moves into this week’s matchup against Lumpkin County, the third region game for the Bears this season.
The visiting Indians are 2-3 on the year, but like Cherokee Bluff, they have yet to notch a first region victory this season. Jones said Lumpkin County has been one of the most improved teams in the state over the past couple of years, adding that the Indians of late have been playing with “a high level of confidence.”
“They’re big and they’re physical,” Jones said. “They run the football exceptionally well, and they stop the run very well. You can tell that their guys are motivated and they’re excited, so we know for sure that it’s going to take just an outstanding effort on our part on Friday night to be successful.”
From an offensive standpoint, Boyd said the mindset against the Indians will be a simple one.
“We’re just going to try to find holes in their defense and go where they’re not,” he said.
As a region game, Cherokee Bluff’s contest against Lumpkin County obviously carries a good deal of significance. But this week’s matchup could be one of the most important of the season for the Bears.
It’s the next-to-last home game the team will play on the year, with the final one coming against Greater Atlanta Christian — the No. 5 team in Class 3A and the defending Region 7-3A champion — on Oct. 19. Today’s game against the Indians could be the last chance Cherokee Bluff has to grab a win in front of the home crowd.
Jones maintained that the focus would stay on “winning every play”, but both him and Boyd were in agreement that a victory would be sweet, particularly if it comes in front of a group of supporters that has remained loyal to the budding new program through its struggles.
“The community has been really great for us,” Boyd said. “They’ve been behind us through everything, and picking up that first win would not only be great for us, but it would be great for them to.”