September 18, 2009 8:26:00 AM
The New Hope High School football team will get back to work tonight against an opponent that is sure to get it primed for the start of district play.
The Trojans (2-0) return from a bye week at 7:30 tonight looking to extend a winning streak when they take on county rival Caledonia (0-3).
New Hope has won the past four meetings in the series.
Caledonia''s 14-10 victory in 2004 is the program''s only victory in the series, dating back to 1995.
The teams didn''t play in 2001-02.
Coaches have come and gone in the past 14 years, but Michael Bradley has brought stability to New Hope''s program.
Now in his fourth season, Bradley has helped transform a program that went 1-9 in 2006 into one that believes it can contend for a state title this season in Class 5A.
The "experts" around the state appear to agree. New Hope is ranked No. 4 in this week''s Associated Press rankings and is No. 5 in the Mississippi Prep Sports Source rankings.
Those rankings don''t mean anything to Bradley, who helped guide the Trojans to an 8-5 finish last season and a trip to the third round of the Class 4A North Half State playoffs.
Bradley said the Trojans spent most of the off week recovering from the flu. The illness hit the team hard, but he hopes tonight''s game will help re-focus his players, especially with the Class 5A, Region 1, District 2 opener at Oxford next week.
"We''re as healthy as we have been healthwise since we started practice," Bradley said. "We don''t want to have our kids overlook anybody or look out for to anybody."
Bradley used the clichés coaches offer in discussing their team''s preparation for games, and said tonight''s game is no more important than any other game on his team''s schedule.
That might be true when it comes to determining playoff berth, but it is a different story when it comes to earning bragging rights.
Despite the emotion that is bound to accompany tonight''s game, Bradley wants his team focused for the Confederates.
"We have come a long way and we still have a ways to go," Bradley said. "I''d like to think the pieces are in place to make a run in our division and have some success. I hope our kids understand that no matter what happens Friday night or what happens next Friday night or the one after that that the season isn''t made or broken with one game. It is a body of work."
Bradley said the school and the community feel the potential of what the Trojans could accomplish this season. He believes Boykin has the ability to create a similar feeling at Caledonia High if he is given the opportunity.
"David is a good friend of mine, and he will do the best possible job of anyone at Caledonia," Bradley said. "He was a key part (as an assistant coach) of the turnaround at Noxubee County, and he was an (volunteer) assistant coach on a college team (the University of North Alabama) that went to semifinals of the NCAA playoffs last year. He knows what it takes. The thing to remember is it is more than a one-man job and that no one person can do it. You have to have a lot of folks. If people get behind him and support him and give him time he will build a program."
Boykin credits Bradley for the work he has done at New Hope. He said Bradley''s ability to build the depth of talent at New Hope is a primary reason why the Trojans improved from 6-4 in 2007 to 8-5 last year.
"He has done an excellent job," Boykin said. "I told him this year is the best New Hope team I have ever seen. They are fast, physical. He has basically built it from scratch. My hat''s off to him."
Boykin hopes to build the same kind of depth at Caledonia High. He said the Confederates'' numbers are still lacking, but neither he nor his players will use that as an excuse.
He said everyone will continue to work hard and to remain focused on giving their best effort for 48 minutes every game.
If Caledonia builds depth and develops that kind of mind-set, Boykin feels the program will get to the point where it is concerned only about what it does and making sure that the players execute all of the elements of that game plan every week.
Boykin continues to work toward that goal this season with a young team. He said the Confederates have made progress, particularly at quarterback with sophomore Brandon Bell. Boykin said Bell is the team''s most physical player and is helping to push the team in the right direction.
Boykin also credited senior wide receiver Edmund Elizenberry for his play. Elizenberry had seven catches last week in a loss to Nettleton, and Boykin said he was one tackle away from breaking away for a touchdown on several of those plays.
"We''re getting there but not as quickly as what I wanted to," Boykin said. "I thought we played with great effort last week, but it was not good enough to overcome the stuff we put ourselves in. We made way too many mental mistakes to win that football game. We have to overcome the mental and lackadaisical mistakes that keep things happening.
"We have got to hurry up because our time is limited and we are done using the excuse that we have young kids. They have played three games and they have to step up to the plate. Our hand has been dealt this year, and they have to produce for us to win."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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