Editor's note: High school football practice is under way, and Anniston Star Sports Writer Joe Medley has grabbed his pen, notebook, recorder and cell phone as he hits the road and visits every Calhoun County school’s football practice before the season begins. This is Joe's final report from the road before the season starts.
Where Joe has visited so far:
WHITE PLAINS — One can pick up a lot about the latest White Plains football team from practice, but what came after practice Tuesday tells more.
It’s not an uncommon scene. Four seniors — David McClure, Riley Dothard, Noah Tillman and Tanner Kughn — led some post-practice tough love. It involved laps, run by players who could’ve missed a workout or a practice.
Several minutes after it started, Dothard, Tillman and Kughn remained on the field with a younger player. The three seniors sat in chairs, under a goalpost. The other player stood near the goal line, facing them.
Word was, it was a little talk about doing better in a class.
The best part of this regular scene for fourth-year Wildcats head coach Chris White? He didn’t need to have much involvement.
White’s involvement came after one of the seniors called out, asking the coach to unlock a gate on the fence surrounding the game field. Seniors did the rest.
That, White says happily, marks another positive internal change for a program still learning how to win.
“Some people have heard me say this and think I’m kind of nuts,” White said. “Sometimes, I don’t think we want to be very successful. We’re afraid to be successful. What would it feel like?
“I feel like the guys we have now want to be successful.”
White’s team has learned to care. The circle of the caring shrank from 50 to 32 from spring practice to preseason camp, but what remains seems to remember the scent of near successes last season.
So many close games:
—Oneonta 36, White Plains 33.
—Westbrook Christian 16, White Plains 14.
—Anniston 33, White Plains 20 in a game that was closer until late.
—Ashville 26, White Plains 20.
—Cherokee County 13, White Plains 12.
The Cherokee County game was so close it hurt. White made what he called “a terrible call” on a fourth-and-one play, deep in White Plains territory.
The Wildcats missed a two-point conversion. A missed tackle proved costly. Similar to the Oneonta game, a turnover on the Warriors’ 18-yard line proved costly.
White Plains won its season at finale, beating Wellborn 18-0 to end a 24-game losing streak and finish 1-9, but 6-4 was 29 points away. The difference between their 0-7 region record and 4-3 was 27 points.
At 4-3, White Plains would’ve edged Cherokee County (4-3 region) for fourth place and earned their first playoff berth since 1994. It would’ve been White Plains’ second-ever playoff berth.
That fleeting smell of success caused sophomore quarterback Jaden Chatman to add football back to his sports menu, White said, and Chatman will be the starting quarterback this season. He can run and throw, as he last showed in the seventh grade.
Others came out of early retirement, too, White said.
They get what’s at stake in practice. They get what’s at stake in White’s office, otherwise known as the weight room.
They’re ready to take the next steps. A step or two, and they win more than two games for the first time since back-to-back 5-5 seasons in 2012-13.
It wouldn’t take many more steps to end a 24-year playoff drought.