All the way back in the summer, well before the early-season losses and outside doubters started piling up, David Bishop knew his North Hall High football team would be fine.
His assurance stemmed from the Trojans’ performance in “goal-line challenges” during the Fellowship of Christian Athletes football camp at West Georgia University. Each team was given seven plays from the 15-yard line to score as many times as it could, and North Hall often found itself facing powerhouse teams from higher classifications like Roswell.
“It gave us the confidence to play with teams that might be more athletic or have bigger or faster players than we do,” sophomore outside linebacker Brady Dehass said. “After that, we knew that we could hang with the bigger and better teams.”
That confidence held steady despite an 0-4 start, and now the Trojans are reaping the rewards.
North Hall won four of its final six regular-season games — all in Region 7-3A play — to erase its lackluster start and claim a No. 3 playoff seed. Even with a young and inexperienced roster that would certainly experience growing pains, Bishop foresaw this kind of success months ago.
“We could see how hard we would play and how much physicality we would give,” Bishop said of those summertime goal-line drills. “Even then, I knew we would be fine. I just wasn’t sure how long it would take.”
Five weeks were all the Trojans needed.
The first two didn’t go so well, with North Hall experiencing a pair of lopsided losses. And even after the ensuing bye week, the Trojans fell in close games at Pickens and against seven-win White County.
But instead of sowing discord and negativity in the locker room, those losses set the stage for North Hall’s second-half turnaround.
“Losing games makes teams closer,” Dehass said. “If you’re on a winning team and things suddenly go downhill, that’s tough to come back from sometimes. But we learned how to get closer as a team through those four losses.”
It finally showed in a 13-0 win against Fannin County on Sept. 22, though Bishop said his team was still “sputtering” in some facets in its region opener.
“But it was our first win, despite the fact that it was ugly,” the coach said. “I tell my guys we’ll always take an ugly win.”
There was nothing ugly about the rest of the Trojans’ victories this season.
North Hall romped to huge wins against both Lumpkin County and Union County, racking up 55 points in each contest. It closed the regular season with a 31-20 win against East Hall to cement its third-place finish in the region.
“They’re a huge rival,” junior running back/safety Daniel Jackson said. “We’ve been playing against those guys growing up for pretty much our whole lives. Getting the win boosted our confidence for the playoffs.”
Now the team that lost 13 starters to graduation and relies heavily on underclassmen is riding high heading into its first-round playoff game at second-seeded Monroe Area on Friday.
Bishop said a key to reversing his team’s fortunes was simplifying or outright eliminating the pre-snap motions in his flexbone offense. Already having to replace prolific rusher Kyle Bacus, the Trojans had to employ even more youth in their backfield when a rash of injuries struck the position.
As a result, seven players have totaled 20 or more carries in a committee backfield that’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Junior quarterback David Seavey has also provided balance with 851 yards and three scores while completing 66.7 percent of his passes.
“Things clicked more on offense as the season went on. We started moving the ball more, and that has really helped out our defense,” Dehass said. “We knew that when we got into region we’d be ready and able to get things back on track.”
But the real impetus behind North Hall’s late-season surge, Jackson said, was that he and his young teammates “did a lot of growing up” as the season went along.
At this point, those sophomores and juniors carrying the load have a full season of experience under their belts. Bishop said his players simply have a better understanding of offensive and defensive concepts, which has led to better results on the field.
But the foundation for such growth was laid during the summer, when Bishop realized his players had the tools to overcome even a winless first month of the season.
“They heard the stuff in the hallways at school, kids asking why they’re not winning games or doing well,” Bishop said. “But the whole time, we were here telling them the opposite. For them to buy into that has been really awesome.
“Everybody is talking about a turnaround, and I’m here saying, ‘What turnaround?’ It was always just a process.”