November 25, 2009 5:17:00 PM
Justin Flye admits he wasn''t very interested in the New Hope High School varsity program as a ninth-grader.
The Trojans weren''t having a lot of success, so it was easy for Flye to come to school Monday not knowing how the varsity team fared Friday.
New Hope lost nine out of 10 Fridays in coach Michael Bradley''s first season as coach.
That season has been the last one the Trojans have settled for losing.
Flye doesn''t know how it happened, but he said people started loving each other more and taking care of themselves more and slowly a transition started to take place.
"We started believing we can win instead of thinking, ''We are just New Hope. We are never going to win.'' " Flye said. "We started to believe that we are a good team and we started winning."
That mentality is alive and well in 2009. Flye, Devin Turner, Hunter Sims, and Eddie Preston are four senior members of the team that have taken it upon themselves to help build that attitude on and off the field.
New Hope (11-1) will try to keep that mind-set going for one more week at 7 p.m. Friday when it will play host to West Point (12-1) in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State title game at Trojan Field.
The four seniors are part of a group of 13 that has helped the Trojans have the best football season in school history.
"We wouldn''t be successful without Eddie, Justin, Devin Turner, and Hunter Sims," Bradley said. "Without role players there is no team. Everyone can''t be a starting running back."
Bradley said the change in attitude is a key reason why New Hope is in position to play for its first football state title. When he first arrived, Bradley said there were 30 guys on the team who thought they should be the starting running back, and that the players who weren''t the starter weren''t going to go hard unless they were the starting running back.
"There was a lot of selfish and ''I'' behavior, a lot of individualism," Bradley said. "I don''t see that on our team. We have a lot of guys like Eddie Preston. He is a prime example of that."
Preston, a transfer from Jacksonville, Fla., has played primarily at wide receiver and some at cornerback. He said his teammates welcomed him and he didn''t have any problems making the transition to live in a city he didn''t even know existed in the state of Mississippi.
It didn''t take long for Preston, who is 5-foot-6, 160 pounds, to discover the Trojans had a bond that made the team special and that everyone believes in each other
"I knew there was a lot of athletes and that whatever happened it was going to be a good team," Preston said. "The key has been our focus. As long as we stay focused we''re good. We have the talent.
"I feel like I am a part of the family. I feel like nobody is left out."
Turner echoes that sentiment. The 5-7, 160-pounder is a three-year member of the varsity program. He said it feels great to be a member of the New Hope football team because the team has made significant strides since it went 1-9 in Bradley''s first season in 2006. A broken ankle prevented Preston from playing as a freshman, but he talked with friends and people in the program, so he knew the program was on an upswing.
"I remember coming back as a sophomore and it was just a look that coach Bradley had in his eye," Turner said. "I think that is when he made the promise he was going to bring this program back. So far we have been making history, making history, making history. From then to now, it has been a big leap. It makes me not want to leave. I wish I could have one more year. We made that leap. One team, one unit, one heartbeat."
Turner said Bradley and the other coaches have helped teach the players how to execute more and how to become more disciplined.
"It is an honor to be part of coach Bradley''s program," said Turner, who as a freshman used to watch television every Friday night during football season to see how the team fared. He said players saw the investment Bradley and the assistant coaches made in the program and slowly realized they needed to do more to help reverse its fortunes.
"We have learned how to be better people and better players and how to execute and how to have a want-to-win attitude in our hearts," Turner said. "We know losing is never an option and giving up is not an option. Coach Bradley instilled in us not to accept 70 percent but 110 percent."
Flye said he has enjoyed being part of a group that believes in itself and in team chemistry. He said "everybody wants a guy to make the play" regardless of who is the starter and who is the backup. He said that attitude has helped the Trojans overcome some tight situations and keep their season alive.
"I feel like I make people better," Flye said. "I come to practice every day and I try to be disciplined and I try to show the underclassman how a senior can lead from the back. I don''t have to be in every newspaper and in every highlight film. I can lead from the back and try to keep peoples'' spirits up."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.