The Evans High School football team had some free time last week, but after three days out of class on fall break, plus a two-day respite from practice, the Knights had to get back to the old grind.
When the squad met for its Wednesday workout, sophomore defensive back Gabe Greer noticed some happy teammates.
"Everybody had their heads held high and they had smiles on their faces," Greer said.
That's what a three-game win streak can do, especially when that same team started the season with four straight losses.
"Everyone has a positive attitude, and we've got a lot of confidence now," senior defensive lineman C.J. Wiltz said. "We're not doing anything different. We're just doing everything better, and it's paying off."
Members of the Evans High School varsity football team run through some practice drills after school. The Knights face Stephenson Friday.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
When Evans was 0-4, it appeared the Knights were going nowhere fast.
Then, on Oct. 2, as Evans prepared for its game at Lithonia the next day, Jackson gathered his downtrodden troops.
Jackson offered them the parable of the talents - despite the defeats, he told the Knights they had talent, it was just a matter of using it.
"I was telling them to persevere. There's a difference between enduring and persevering," Jackson recalled last week. "I told the guys we're playing fine, just keep doing what you're doing. Have fun, play hard, and it will all come together."
The first half at Lithonia was not much fun. The Bulldogs notched an 80-yard touchdown on a broken play to put Evans in a 14-0 hole at the half.
But the Knights didn't panic. They responded to adversity and pulled out a 17-14 win.
"As the season went on, we got better, and then we won a game," Greer said. "We wanted to keep it going week after week."
That's exactly what happened. Evans earned win No. 2 against Cedar Grove, then followed with a key victory at Lakeside-DeKalb.
Three straight wins, all against Region 7-AAAAA foes, and suddenly Evans is the rags-to-riches story of the 2003 prep season in Columbia County.
The turnaround has hinged on swarming defensive play, good blocking by the offensive line, and a conservative offensive approach led by the running of Cheng Ho and Buddy Dymeck.
But don't discount perseverance. During the win streak, several starters were nursing injuries, including seniors Ricky Crawford and Ben Stapleton.
The Knights had a bye last week, and the time off should mean Evans is at full strength for this Friday's region contest against Stephenson at Blanchard Stadium.
Stephenson will be a major challenge, but at least now when Jackson sees the light at the end of the tunnel, he's not worried that it could be a freight train heading his way.
Evans enters this week's action with a 3-4 record, and is 3-2 in Region 7-AAAAA. The Knights likely can earn a trip to the state playoffs with two wins in the final three-week stretch against Stephenson, Redan and Douglass.
Jackson says the Knights weren't as bad as people thought when they started 0-4, and he tells the players that winning three straight doesn't make them world beaters.
Still, if the Knights are good enough to qualify for postseason play this season, that would satisfy the first-year coach at Evans.
"Our goal at the beginning of the year was to make the playoffs," Jackson said. "We have everything right in front of us. We just have to keep getting better."
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