Watch North Hall highlights from the regular season
North Hall vs. Hart County
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Brickyard
Bob Christmas’ face started to light up when he spoke of North Hall’s football practice Tuesday afternoon. The Trojans’ coach goes as far as to say it was one of their best practice sessions all season with the focus and determination displayed.
"It’s really fun to coach when the kids are playing like that," Christmas said.
Part of the reason he feels like Tuesday’s practice was one of the best all season was the fact that North Hall (7-3) opens the Class AAA state playoffs against Hart County (7-3) on Friday night at The Brickyard. But the Trojans’ coach has an inclination that part of the renewed energy by the players is manifested from the desire to match the success of past teams to play at North Hall.
That’s what happens when a winning tradition becomes such a dominant force in the program you play for.
"Everyone thinks about the fact that we don’t want to be the class that didn’t make the playoffs, or wasn’t able to win a playoff game at home," North Hall’s senior quarterback Blayne Gilmer said. "At North Hall you’re expected to win."
This time of the year, North Hall’s fans expect to be able to drive over to see the team play at The Brickyard in the playoffs. The Trojans have played in eight home playoff games since 2004, with only a state quarterfinal loss that season to Washington County keeping that from being a perfect mark.
The No. 2-seed Trojans fully understand that Friday’s game against third-seed Hart County will probably be their final game in front of the home fans. It would take a North Hall win, and a Central-Carroll upset of No. 1-seed Dunwoody, to keep the Trojans at home in the second round.
That’s why North Hall’s seniors want this first-round playoff game to be one for the fans to remember this class by.
"Our fans are great," North Hall senior defensive end Sam Weaver said. "That’s why we play so well at home is to make the fans happy."
North Hall’s football tradition in recent seasons doesn’t stop with just playoff success at home. The Trojans have one state semifinal appearance (2007), three trips to the quarterfinals and three region titles (2004, 2006 and 2007). North Hall has won seven playoff games since 2004, and have played in 12 playoff games since 2002.
"I think the tradition of this program has an effect on the players," Christmas said. "Winning breeds winning, and success breeds success."
North Hall’s players will not have to look any further than the bleachers to see the previous links in the chain that have brought success to the program. Gilmer said some of last year’s seniors including Dylan Wolf, Hunter Wolf and Fabian Jackson will all be on hand for the game against Hart County to see if the Trojans can make it three straight seasons winning that first-round playoff game.
The Trojans’ quarterback said that those players have continued to ask this season about the progress of the program. They clearly didn’t want to see North Hall football start to backslide.
"We can’t take a step back," Gilmer said.
The North Hall tradition is also a point of pride between brothers that have played in the program. Nathan Jones, Ross Biggers, Ben Booth, Ethan Satterfield, Matt Christmas and Nathan Hewell are some of the current players that had older brothers that were instrumental in the formation of the Trojans’ tradition since Bob Christmas arrived in 2001.
The coach’s son, Matt Christmas, was in the stands to watch the tradition begin when his older brother was playing for North Hall. Now it’s his turn to leave a mark on the program.
"I started paying attention watching my older brother play," the Trojans’ senior running back said. "Now everyone expects to win."
North Hall’s first playoff game under coach Christmas was in 2002 against Cedartown. He still has a framed photo in the coaches office with the banner the players ran through before that game. The brightly colored banner accurately forecasted the program’s future with the words ‘We’ve only just begun’ painted on the sign.
That hope for the future seems to have taken flight.