The fact that the North Hall High football team is playing in the state quarterfinals is not an Earth-shattering development. The Region 7-AAA champion and third-ranked Trojans (12-0) are playing in the round of eight for the third time in the past four seasons.
And this time around, North Hall can look forward to having a sea of green packing the stands at The Brickyard against Perry (9-3) on Friday night. Last season, the Trojans had to travel down to Sandersville to face Washington County, which cut into the team’s preparation for the game, according to coach Bob Christmas.
Times sports writer Bill Murphy spoke with Christmas on Tuesday afternoon about preparations for the state quarterfinals, anticipation for the chance to play at the Georgia Dome and some unsung heroes that have made the difference for the Trojans this season.
Question: How much easier is it playing the quarterfinals at home this season?
Answer: It makes it much easier from the standpoint of not having to worry about traveling, chartering a bus and planning a trip itinerary for 100 people to play a game. And on top of that the week of the quarterfinals the GHSA sends a packet to fill out with information to play in the semifinals before you even make it. Having all those distractions really cuts into the film time for the coaching staff. This week, we just have to worry about practicing and having the kids ready to play.
Q: What is the difference with the kids on the team this year going into the quarterfinals?A: There is definitely a difference in the attitude of our players this season. Not to diminish what we’ve already accomplished, but they expect to win, and aren’t going to be satisfied with anything less.
Our kids have accomplished some phenomenal things this season. Our players have a real determination to succeed, and that is important. It is a long season, because you start working in July and now we’re going on six months, and a lot of people get tired. But our kids are still working just as hard because they realize the magnitude of what they want to accomplish.
Q: There’s eight teams left, is North Hall the best?
A: That’s why we play the game. Honestly, all we’re concerned about right now is Perry. The thing that makes it difficult to prepare for now, is that we don’t have any common opponents, so it’s hard to really gauge how good a team really is. But I know this, Perry looks good on film and have great personnel.
Q: Are you planning on playing in the Georgia Dome next weekend?
A: Absolutely. I tell the kids on our team that’s our plan. Our team is very mature, and I can be truthful with them. I tell the team we just have to continue to play like we are capable of playing.
Q: What is the community support like for this program right now?
A: It’s been wonderful. I think we’re about to see this place erupt on Friday night with excitement. With Buford and Habersham Central playing down in South Georgia on Friday, we’re the only high school football game in Northeast Georgia. So if you want to see high school football, this is where you’re going to have to come to see it.
Q: Everyone knows about your team leaders, but who have been some of the unsung heroes on your team this season?
A: I think first of all you have to say (quarterback) Fabian (Jackson) has been a great player. Most of the time you see him hand it off to one of our backs, but he can also tuck it in and run with the ball. And playing on both sides, he never comes off the field. He’s just a very humble, soft-spoken kid. Then you have Chase Hulsey who creates a lot of excitement on special teams and kickoffs. He gives tremendous effort, even though he doesn’t start on offense or defense. Then we have a sophomore at linebacker Thomas Sprague, who’s done a heck of a job with another couple of sophomores we have starting Daniel Blitch (center) and Robert Humphrey.
Q: Is there a sense of urgency to try to win state this season with such a deep senior class?
A: I’ve never thought of it as a sense of urgency. I just like the way this team handles itself. Having coached two state championship teams before, I’ve never coached a more complete team than this team. I have coached more talented teams. But with this team I don’t have any head cases or any egos to worry about. For instance, a running back might have his feeling hurt if they don’t get enough carries. But that isn’t an issue with this team. Bobby Epps might get 15 carries one day, Hunter Wolf might carry it 20 times the next game or Fabian Jackson might get a lot of carries one game. What they care about is doing what it takes to win. This team plays with a purpose, and has a tremendous work ethic.
Q: I understand you’ve coached against Perry coach Andy Scott before. Is that an advantage?A: I coached against him when I was at Bainbridge and he was an assistant (offensive line coach) at Coffee.
If it’s an advantage for anyone, it would be more for him, because he was an assistant at the time and he has his own system now at Perry.