Starkville High School’s Bernard Thomas tries to bring West Point High’s Nate Montgomery to the ground in the Green Wave’s 28-3 victory on Sept. 1 in West Point. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff Buy this photo.
September 14, 2017 10:13:27 AM
WEST POINT -- Nate Montgomery and Rasson Carr first felt the bull's eye in middle school.
As part of West Point's eighth-grade team that won the Big 6 title, neither player remembered if the weight of that bull's eye carried any extra pressure or responsibility. But Montgomery and Carr remember wanting to win another championship in the ninth grade, which they did, to set the stage for their move to the varsity team.
"I knew we were very good, but I didn't feel a target on my back as much," Carr said. "We knew every game we went into we were going to win."
The move to the varsity team included a new set of expectations and a higher sense of priorities.
Listening to Montgomery and Carr makes it easy to understand how the West Point High School football program continues to thrive despite the ever-present targets on the players' backs.
"It means family and hard work and dedication," Montgomery said when asked what it means to play for West Point. "You have to be dedicated to the game, especially if you want to win and have a state championship. It is like a family and we have to stick together. ... You can't be selfish. It is all about the team."
West Point (3-0) will try to drive that point home again at 7 p.m. Friday when it travels to Macon to take on longtime rival Noxubee County (2-2).
Carr said the responsibility that accompanies playing for the varsity team made him work harder to prepare for his 10th-grade year. He said the seniors set the tone and pushed him to work harder in training. The message was simple: The person that works the hardest is going to win.
That message has been passed down from class to class. It is one Carr and Montgomery take pride in carrying on because there is a great sense of pride about getting an opportunity to play on the school's football team.
"West Point means trusting in one another and trusting in your teammates," Carr said. "Don't try to do too much because if you do too much that is how you get beat on big plays.
Montgomery, a senior athlete who focuses on running back and slot receiver, said he has heard all of the talk from friends and people in the community who expect the Green Wave to win another state title. He said the players feed off the confidence from those individuals and use it to motivate them through the hard times in the offseason and at practice.
Last season, West Point won its first state title -- and eighth overall -- since 2010. The victory was especially sweet for a program that hasn't had a losing season since 2001. The memory of eight-straight losing seasons from 1994-2001 is a distant memory thanks in part to stability on a coaching staff led by Chris Chambless and a physical brand of football that has left bruises on nearly every program in the state.
Montgomery said he also heard the talk that this year's senior class was part of a group that was destined to help the Green Wave recapture the gold championship trophy. He believes he and his classmates are the ones to lead the way to another title this season. Montgomery doesn't boast when he says it. His words come with the confidence of someone who knows he has worked hard and has earned everything he has gotten in his prep football career.
"For it not to be overconfidence, you can't be 100 percent comfortable," Montgomery said. "You have to stay ready to play. ... You just have to practice, practice hard, be dedicated to the game, and be ready."
Carr, who also is a senior, agrees "comfortable" isn't a word typically associated with West Point football. He said the coaches make sure of that because it helps ensure the players stay at their best. After all, all of them recognize there is a target on their back simply for being a part of one of the state's most storied programs. That is a responsibility Carr, Montgomery, and their classmates carry with great care.
"We know we can do it," Carr said. "Everybody knows we can do it. The city knows we can do it. ... We don't want to let the city down. They have all of their hopes on us and us failing against a team we know we should be wouldn't leave a good taste in our mouth.
"The city is the main thing that drives us. It is city, team, and coaches. It is what they always tell us, put the city on your back. Even when we were in the eighth and ninth grade, the city always followed us around. They were always behind us."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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