At Donoho, players exit the field through the stands on the way to their lockerroom in the school’s gymnasium. They hear fan feedback, and Donoho fans said what the players wanted to hear in 2006.
“You could tell, they expected us to win,” Nunnelley said.
Nunnelley and his teammates got a taste of that after the 2009 finale. They beat Skyline at home to finish 1-9 and end a 21-game losing streak.
A reminder of how good times feel helped Donoho’s numbers for 2010. The Falcons entered fall camp with 20 varsity players — up from 14 at one point in 2009 — and 28 junior varsity players.
Throw in a favorable realignment, and the Falcons are thinking beyond a mere taste of winning.
“I set my standards kind of high for what I want, and the boys are the same thing,” Donoho coach Shannon Felder said. “Some people say, ‘If you all win three games, it’s a good season.’ It hasn’t been a good season.
“We want to make the playoffs.”
What a difference a win makes, and it didn’t end with the 33-23 victory against Skyline in the 2009 finale. Donoho beat Skyline again in their spring game.
So the Falcons enter 2010 on a winning streak, of sorts. It sure beats the very real other kind of streak they endured for more than two seasons.
Realignment also helped to wipe the slate clean. Donoho no longer clashes with TC Central, Loachapoka, Wadley and Winterboro.
Now in Class 1A, Region 6, the Falcons will play Appalachian, Coosa Christian, Jacksonville Christian, Jefferson Christian, Parkway Christian, Ragland and St. Bernard. Only Appalachian and Coosa Christian finished 2009 with winning records.
An even deeper look offers more encouragement.
“A lot of the teams that were really strong and powerful were losing a lot of players,” Felder said. “Looking at the region, I was thinking we could make the playoffs.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win the region, but I felt that there was enough stuff in place for us to make the playoffs.”
So optimism once again wears maroon and black.
What’s more, seniors such as Nunnelley make up about a third of the varsity team. They’re old enough to remember when Donoho won a lot, and the younger players now know how it feels to win.
“We’ve been working a whole lot harder,” said Nunnelley, who threw two touchdown passes against Skyline in 2009. “It lets us know we can win.
“Last year, we didn’t quite believe we can win. This year, it’s a different atmosphere.”
The Falcons began to feel it while walking through the stands after beating Skyline.
“People used to say, ‘Good game’ or ‘You tried hard’ or something,” Nunnelley said. “Then they were like, ecstatic. ‘I can’t believe it! You guys won!’
“I have to admit, that’s probably the best I’ve felt in a long time after a game.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576.