After four straight postseason appearances, Saks failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2010.
The Wildcats had to believe a fourth straight appearance was all but theirs heading into the season a year ago when they dropped down in classification. After all, they were coming off an 8-4 season where they made it to the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
“We didn’t like last year,” coach Clint Smith said. “We didn’t like not being in the playoffs. When you take something away that you’re used to, you want to get back to that.”
The Wildcats began the season with an impressive 4-1 start with wins against Ashville, Hokes Bluff, White Plains and J.B. Pennington. However, they folded late losing to Glencoe, Weaver, Piedmont and Clay County down the stretch to finish 4-5.
They are motivated by their misfortune as they prepare to embark upon another season in Region 6, where nine teams will do battle for four playoff spots.
The Wildcats play all eight of their region games right off the bat, beginning with an Aug. 26 road meeting against an improved Ashville team.
“We don’t have a non-region Week 1 or Week 5,” Smith said. “So, there’s no margin for error. We have to come out ready to play each and every week. … You have to hit the ground running. You have to have everything in Week 1. You have to be ready to go and ready to play because that game matters just as much as any of them getting off on the right track.”
It’s arguable whether anyone wants it as badly as senior linebacker Joshua Reynolds.
The 5-foot-8, 175-pounder tore his ACL in the spring game last season and was forced to sit out his junior season. He rehabbed the injury for more than three months, and still Reynolds said in early August he was still at about 90 percent and that he would fight through it to be able to be on the field and help his team out.
“It was real painful, especially the first game,” Reynolds said of having to sit out. “The first game was on my birthday. I thought I was going to be out there. I missed that first game, and it broke me down.”
Smith said his team learned that what they did the previous season doesn’t matter at all.
Now, their slate is clean, and they’re all about establishing the identity of this year’s team and returning to their postseason pedigree.
They lose a trio of all-county performers in Brandon Johnson, Shed Long and Mark Wilson, and will start several newcomers across the offensive and defensive lines. Chase Johnson and Cordarius Cooper are battling for the starting quarterback position.
They have five starters back on both sides of the ball. Among them is talented sophomore Corpio Dennard, who started as a freshman on both sides of the ball, to go along with a tackling machine in linebacker Xavier Morgan and athlete Justin Grier.
These Wildcats have seen success, winning a pair of spring contests in Mississippi. Now, it’s just a matter of putting things together and getting results on Friday nights.
“Last year taught us a lot of things,” Smith said. “You have to realize that you have to play each and every game. You have to go out and you have to work. You have to weather the storm and play through injuries and stay focused.
“We want to work at trying to peak at the right time. We want to play our best ball at the end of the season instead of at the beginning of the season.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.