November 20, 2009 8:51:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The New Hope High School football team has 11 players in it to win it on defense.
Other teams might have faster players or better individual talent, but the Trojans would argue their team chemistry and camaraderie on defense has helped them have one of the best seasons in school history.
Seniors Anthony Nelson and Marquise Coleman are two examples of the kind of mentality New Hope has on defense.
The Trojans (10-1) will need to play together at 7 tonight when they take on Ridgeland (10-2) in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State playoffs.
The winner of tonight''s game will advance to take on the winner of the Pearl-West Point game to determine the North Half champion.
New Hope''s 253 points scored or its 152 points allowed might not be as impressive as other playoff teams, but it''s impossible to deny the Trojans'' spirit and will to win.
Last week, New Hope rallied from a two-score deficit to beat Callaway 34-33. The Trojans came up with the defensive stop they needed late in the fourth quarter. They then held after the offense drove 93 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Solid team play has coach Michael Bradley confident his defense will help lead the charge again tonight.
"Everybody has a job, and everybody has a role," Bradley said. "That is one thing about our team that I am very proud of. Our guys understand what their role is. We all want to be the star and be the one who everybody is the best player, but our guys are very unselfish. Our defensive guys understand it takes 11 on the field, and a lot more than 11 all together. If 10 guys are doing their job and one is not, then the chances for the offense to have success is high. Coach Hardin, coach Keith, and coach Owen have done an outstanding job of building that camaraderie on defense, and I am real proud of the job that they and our kids have done."
Nelson, a 5-foot-11, 140-pound safety, is in his first season as a starter. He played slot receiver and safety as a ninth-grader and has focused at safety since last season. He said there isn''t a elaborate answer to describe how and why the Trojans'' defense has been successful.
"We all work as a team," Nelson said. "We don''t really have any superstars. It is a team effort. I have been impressed with the way we get after it. Every play we like to get all 11 people to the ball."
Nelson said he worked hard in the offseason to get stronger and add weight. He said he put on about seven pounds and plays with an aggressive attitude that helps him overcome what some might consider a lack of size.
"You have to have some skill that stands out for you to be 140 pounds and playing ," Nelson said. "Being aggressive helps a lot."
Coleman, a 5-11, 158-pounder, wasn''t the biggest player as a freshman or a sophomore. He said he has added 20 to 25 pounds in the past two years and grown three to four inches taller.
The added size has helped him move from wide receiver to cornerback in his 10th-grade season and earn a starting role this season.
"I take a lot of pride in my coverage and in my ball skills," Coleman said. "I can really go get it if you throw it up."
Coleman said he learned the importance of working hard in the weight room and teamwork from the seniors on last season''s team. He feels he, Nelson, and the rest of the seniors have helped strengthen that mentality this season.
"You have to be as brothers and play as one," Coleman said. "You can''t be stopped if you do."
Bradley said Nelson and Coleman have avoided the trappings of today''s "instant gratification" society and have overcome their share of bad days and a lack of playing time earlier in their career. As seniors, he said they are leaders on a unit that relies on trust and all 11 players to get the job done.
"They probably had a lot of folks question them and people tell them that you''re out their wastin'' your time, but they weren''t. They were workin''," Bradley said. "When it came their time to play, they stepped up and played. They have done a great job. I am proud of them."
Bradley said last season''s New Hope team helped set the standard. He said seven or eight seniors who waited their turn made significant contributions and helped the Trojans advance to the third round of the Class 4A North Half State playoffs.
This season, five or six seniors have played key roles on a defense that is best when the sum of its part come together.
"You want your team to have upperclassmen playing," Bradley said. "That speaks highly of our kids for being willing to work and to wait their turn. ... At various times, you could see (Anthony and Marquise) have wonder in their eyes and wonder is this ever going to happen and am I ever going to get the chance. I knew both would stick it out. Both of them are tough, real good kids, come from real good families, and I am real proud that they didn''t make an immature, selfish decision and chose to do what they knew was right and hang in there with it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.