September 4, 2009 8:52:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The colors he was wearing were different, but it was impossible not to recognize the face.
So as Bubba Davis climbed the bleachers on the home side of West Point High School''s Hamblin Stadium, he stopped to greet multiple well-wishers.
Davis smiled as he talked to the fans who were there on that May evening to watch the spring game between Louisville and West Point.
He lingered a moment here and a minute there as he worked his way through the crowd to where his "new" assistants at Columbus High were seated.
Davis might receive a few smiles and handshakes at 7:30 tonight when he leads Columbus (1-1) against West Point, but odds are the Green Wave fans will be business, not about reminiscing.
That''s fine with Davis, who said he has been gone long enough from West Point so it doesn''t feel like going home.
"The fact that I am from there and that I coached there so long, I always feel like I am still a part of what we started there," said Davis, who coached at West Point High from 1974-93 and won four state titles at the school. "This is my job. We''re going to get on the bus Friday night and we''re going to go there and it would be nice to beat them. That is what it is all about."
A 42-7 loss last year brought back memories of his days at West Point. This year might be a little different.
Columbus is a year older and more comfortable in Davis'' system. The Falcons gained confidence in a 27-26 double-overtime victory against Aberdeen in their season opener. They played well last week in a 23-12 loss to defending Class 4A state champion Noxubee County.
Davis feels his players are getting closer mentally to being where he wants them to be. He said strong first-half efforts in both games helped push the team closer to where it needs to be.
Unfortunately, Davis said the Falcons might have gotten too comfortable and didn''t know how to handle being ahead of two highly touted teams. He said he and his assistant coaches addressed that this week, and he hopes his players will be able to finish the drill.
The goal is simple: To have the Columbus High football program adopt the same mind-set that helped make West Point a state power.
"Coach (Grady) McCluskey just told them that whoever is the most physical Friday night is probably going to win the ballgame," Davis said. "When we were good, we were strong and we were physical, and that''s what they''re still doing."
Davis knows the Falcons will be successful. He has watched the team get stronger in the offseason thanks to hard work in the weight room. He also has seen better intensity, focus, and work rates at practices in the preseason and early in the regular season, and is confident the program is moving toward reaching its goal of playing hard every play and making a lasting impression on its opponent.
"We used to take pride (at West Point High) in trying to make people quit," Davis said. "The way I played football and the way I have coached it, if you can make them get over there on the sidelines and stay there, you have done a pretty good job. That''s what it is about, and that''s how you play the game."
Davis said he and his assistant coaches use examples from their past to prove to the Falcons that good things will happen if they buy into the system. In just two weeks, he said he has seen an improvement, and he hopes this week the players will take another step.
Win or lose, though, Davis and his assistant coaches won''t change their approach because they have seen it work.
"Football is football," Davis said. "After I left West Point, I have coached the same wherever I have gone. It all comes back to the kids. The kids have got to buy into it. On Friday night, they are the ones who have to go out and do it.
"I said it last year and I will say it again. I don''t think anybody is getting coached any better than our kids. I have a great staff. These coaches coach. It is on the kids. Thank goodness I can''t play. I would like to, but the game has changed. The kids are bigger, stronger, and faster. But all of that being equal, it comes back to the thing that was our downfall last year, and right now it is better. It is a mind thing. Our minds are getting better."
Davis said what is now the visitor''s sideline at West Point used to be the home sideline, and he hopes he and his players will be able to find another victory tucked away in that turf on that side of the field.
Still, as much as Davis learned and as many games as he won at Hamblin Stadium, tonight''s matchup will be just the next one on the Falcons'' schedule -- regardless of how many friends and former players Davis sees.
"We''ve got good kids," Davis said. "I think the majority of them are on our page, and I think they want to do. Mentally, they just have to figure out how to deal with everything and find a way to go ahead and do what they are capable of doing."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.