When Tim Gagner joined the Harlem High School football team four years ago, he was just a freshman suiting up for a downtrodden program.
Now he's a senior who realizes there is truth in the saying "Every dog has its day."
Gagner and his teammates combined this season to give Harlem its first winning record since 1981. Meanwhile, the Dogs have gone from gridiron doormat in 1997 to the top team in Columbia County in 2001.
This Friday's Class AAA state playoff game at Mary Persons High School in Forsyth, Ga. marks the second straight year Harlem has advanced to the postseason.
Gagner isn't surprised by the success - he saw it coming.
"I saw it in summer camp. I saw the work ethic, from everybody, I saw it in the weight room. I really knew that we had something special this season," Gagner said. "It's just a great feeling to finally have a winning season. It's been a goal of ours from the very beginning, since I was a freshman. We're really looking forward to the playoffs."
Harlem enters the playoffs with a 6-3-1 record, while Mary Persons fell to 7-3 with a 15-0 loss last week at Washington County High School. Considering Harlem lost to Washington County 53-21 earlier this month, Forsyth should be a formidable challenge.
"We'll have to step it up even more, because now it's one loss and you're gone. We've got to give it all we've got," Harlem junior Kelvin Sturgis said.
Harlem was ousted from first-round playoff action last year with a 55-14 drubbing at LaGrange High School, a No. 1 seed from Region 4-AAA.
As the No. 3 seed from Region 3-AAA this year, the Dogs get an easier draw (Mary Persons is No. 2 from Region 4-AAA); more importantly, Harlem now has some playoff experience to draw from.
"I think last year our main goal was to make it to the playoffs. This year it's to advance. We're looking to make a statement this year," said senior Travis Reese, who starts on the offensive and defensive lines. "Our defense has got to tackle better. We're playing pretty good now, but we have to step it up for the playoffs."
Winning playoff games on the road is a tough task, but Harlem head coach Jimmie Lewis believes his team has a better chance in the postseason this year, due to balanced regular-season competition in Region 3-AAA.
"I think our region is stronger than it has been. Washington County, Westside, Laney, ourselves; I think we're going to represent this region well," Lewis said. "I think we can go do something in the playoffs."
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