September 10, 2010 9:21:00 AM
Glenn Akins and Stance Henderson haven''t had to talk about last season to get motivated for tonight''s game.
Aside from a three-game losing streak to open the season, the 2009 campaign was marked by disappointment and an inability to live up to the potential the Patriots saw in their team.
Three games into the 2010 season, Akins and Henderson promise they won''t let the same thing happen in their senior season.
Faced with a game against an opponent -- Lamar School -- that started their troubles last season, Heritage Academy is ready to chart a different course. That quest will begin at 7 tonight in Columbus, and Akins and Henderson and their teammates will be ready.
"It is what we don''t want to happen, and we will not let it happen (this year)," Akins said of losses last season to Lamar School and Madison-Ridgeland Academy. "We have been football since the fourth grade, and we have been waiting for this year. We''re not going to let it fizzle out like we did last year."
A year ago, Heritage Academy opened the season with victories against Oak Hill Academy, Winston Academy, and Starkville Academy before losses to Lamar School and to Madison-Ridgeland Academy sapped the momentum and started a season-ending eight-game losing skid.
In the preseason, the Heritage Academy seniors talked about how the 2009 team never regrouped after adversity struck and how a lack of leadership caused problems.
This season, Heritage Academy (2-1) has shown some of that fight. The Patriots rebounded from a one-point loss to Winston Academy on Aug. 27 to beat Starkville Academy 22-7 last week in Starkville.
They know they will have to be focused, disciplined, and ready to bounce back if they give up a big play against Class AA North Division member Lamar School (1-2), which loves to flood the field with as many as six options in the passing game.
That shouldn''t be a problem, though, because Henderson, a linebacker/running back, said Heritage Academy is confident.
"I feel this team is stronger than we were last year," Henderson said. "We went through a little adversity in the Winston Academy game (a 22-21 loss), but we still played tough. Against Starkville Academy, we played a lot better in the second half. We sucked it up and played. Last year, our team didn''t know how to do that."
Henderson and Akins said the team''s talented group of sophomores has adapted to the speed of the game, which gives them confidence this season can be different. They said the maturation of junior quarterback Brandon Bell, a transfer from Caledonia High, also has solidified the offense. Bell, who is 6-foot-2 and more than 200 pounds, can be a bruising runner or a pocket passer to give the Patriots an offense that can keep defenses honest.
"He keeps the play alive. That''s for sure," Henderson said.
Said Akins, "He doesn''t just get sacked. He changes a busted play into a decent play."
Heritage Academy coach Brad Butler has been pleased with the effort of his players. He said the team didn''t talk a lot about the loss to Winston Academy and did a good job of bouncing back from the result. He said the Patriots also won''t discuss what happened last season and will focus on what they have to do to be successful tonight.
"We can''t harp on the bad," Butler said. "It is like I told them with Ole Miss, when Kentrell Lockett went down there were 85 other guys on scholarship, so somebody is there who is supposed to be ready to take his spot. If we have one down, I feel like we have another one who can step in there and take the reins and run with it."
Butler said he likes the balance his team has exhibited on offense. He said his defense will have to step up to answer the challenge against a team that likes to throw the ball 90 percent of the time. If the Patriots can have a balanced attack and play assignment football on defense, Butler likes his team''s chances.
"As long as our coverage doesn''t break down I think we have the athletes to cover them," Butler said. "They''re the kind of team that if they break your coverage they''re going to make you pay. They can get chunks (of yards). We have to be disciplined and communicate in the secondary and make sure we''re on the same page so it doesn''t happen."
Disciplined play in the secondary and improved communication will be two more elements the Patriots will have to deliver on a night they will be asked to back up their talk and new attitude with action.
"I think Heritage has had a problem with senior year, we''re ready to get out," Henderson said. "I think this senior class actually wants to do something with their senior year. Instead of it being their last year, we want it to be our best year."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.