Against Perry last week in the Class AAA state quarterfinals, the North Hall sophomore linebacker was in the end zone, in coverage, when the ball came right in his direction. His first reaction was he wasn’t in position for the interception, so he went with his next best option to bat the ball down and prevent a touchdown. It proved to be a very wise decision.
After Sprague’s batted pass, fellow sophomore linebacker Robert Humphrey stepped in for an interception.
That’s the kind of leadership Trojans coach Bob Christmas comes to expect out of his more seasoned players. But he’s more than willing to give younger players such as Sprague and Humphrey the same opportunity to play when they show the same kind of aptitude for the game.
"I like to say the ground is level when it comes to earning playing time," Christmas said. "There is no obligation to play seniors.
"My obligation is to put the best players on the field to give us a chance to win. Their performance earns them a spot on the field."
Sprague, Humphrey and offensive lineman Daniel Blitch have all earned the respect of their teammates as sophomores starting for the Trojans (13-0) and are eager to make more plays in the AAA state semifinals this weekend against Cairo (12-1) at the Georgia Dome. The youth of these three that have cracked the starting lineup is unique at North Hall with its senior-loaded starting roster.
According to Christmas, these three have handled the responsibility of accountability to their teammates well in the chase for a state title.
"These guys have the respect of their teammates and they’ve earned it," Christmas said. "The guys on our team don’t take excuses from each other, and there is a very high work ethic."
In return, the younger players feel grateful for the chance to contribute in such a major role to the total team picture.
"I’m very grateful for everything," Blitch said. "This is such a complete team that we have here, and I want to be able to do my part to help."
For Humphrey, his timely play against Perry possibly made the difference in advancing to the semifinals. He also had an interception that he tipped to himself earlier in the game.
Humphrey is now tied for the team lead with four interceptions.
Blitch, a center, and Sprague have started all season for North Hall. Humphrey was the last of this trio to crack the starting lineup. His first start of the season came against East Hall. He didn’t waste the opportunity to show what he could do finishing the game with eight tackles and Sprague added 10.
"I knew when I finally got the chance to start that I couldn’t mess up," Humphrey said. "I always hustle to the football and remember that God is with me."
"We knew Robert had the tools to be a starter, but he had to see that in himself," Christmas said.
Sprague’s introduction to the starting lineup was much different than his linebacker counterpart. Christmas felt at the start of the season he was ready to be thrust into the starting rotation.
It’s been a natural fit. Sprague is second on the Trojans with 104 tackles with a pair of interceptions. He’s definitely earned the respect of his teammates.
"I think of Thomas as like the future of North Hall football," senior lineman Colin Alford said. "I don’t even think of these guys as sophomores anymore since they’ve played an entire season."
According to Christmas, Blitch was also ready for the limelight when the season began. This 6-4, 310-pound center was introduced to varsity action in mop-up work as a freshman. His splash onto the scene was a foregone conclusion for North Hall this season. Christmas says Blitch has lived up to the expectations to anchor the offensive line in the middle.
"He’s heard it from me numerous times that he has the tools to be a great lineman," Christmas said.
These three young Trojans have used this experience of playing on such a talented football team as a bonding point. Now they just want to do what they can to survive and advance to the state championship game.
"Now we have two more games to win," Sprague said.