Last Thursday was cold and wet in Harlem, and Bulldogs coach Jimmie Lewis was chastising players for not keeping the team's new footballs out of the numerous mud puddles dotting the practice field.
The soggy spots were left over from the day before, when the Bulldogs had practiced in a steady rain.
"Somebody asked me one time, 'Why don't you go in and practice in a gym?' " Lewis said. "I said, 'I ain't ever seen a football game played in a gym.' "
The Bulldogs don't quit when it's raining. They didn't quit after starting the season with five consecutive losses, all by at least two touchdowns.
Their four seniors -- Zach Morris, Tyler James, Forrest Christian and A.J. Baecher -- are the foundation of what remained of a team depleted by the rezoning for Grovetown High. They have led the Bulldogs' resilient attitude, hardened by taunts they receive each Friday from classmates and friends predicting an opponent's blowout.
"You just got to brush it off," Tyler James said after Harlem broke through in its sixth game, a 19-8 victory at Cross Creek. "Sometimes we don't even care about the score. We just go out and knock heads, man."
James said it is usually about halftime when he and his teammates begin feeling the effects of the small roster. The Bulldogs have only about 15 players to see much action in their games, and most play offense, defense and special teams.
The exception is quarterback Zach Morris, who plays defense only when the other team is threatening to score. Morris is the catalyst for the triple-option offense, and Lewis takes no chances with his standout.
"I don't know how they do it," Morris said of his teammates' never coming off the field. "I'm tired, and I just do offense."
Baecher is making his debut as a varsity starter this season. The Cross Creek victory was the first Baecher could claim a part in as a Bulldog.
He plays offensive guard and defensively in goal-line situations.
"He did his time and finally got his opportunity," Lewis said. "A lot of kids don't start their junior year; they quit, thinking they're supposed to.
"He hung in there. It shows something about him."
Resilience is a common thread in Lewis' praise for his seniors.
Christian, a linebacker and fullback, "is a never-ending running machine," Lewis said. "He just ... goes 100 mph every game, every practice."
James returned from a concussion last season to play defensive back and receiver. He also backs up Morris at quarterback.
Harlem's seniors are content to keep fighting because they know their schedule gets more favorable. Although the team was blasted 53-7 by Hephzibah last week, they will close with the same three teams they beat to end last season. A similar finish this season would be vindication for some of the earlier jabs, they say.
Lewis praised his team's makeup.
"It's a good bunch to coach," Lewis said. "There ain't no problems.
"They do what they're told, except kicking footballs in the water. But that's kids, you know."
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