November 19, 2010 8:33:00 AM
Every team is special to a coach, but some teams can be more special.
For Ronnie Hubbert, this year''s Sulligent High School football team has earned that distinction more than once.
The Blue Devils carry a 10-2 record into their Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 2A third-round playoff game tonight against Lineville (9-3).
A gaudy record and a trip to the playoffs are a couple of special memories for this year''s team.
For Hubbert, this is his first job as a head coach, which makes the run pretty special. He was an assistant coach in 2008 when the Blue Devils fell 41-8 to Leroy, Ala., in the Class 2A state championship. Hubbert often talks about his pride in the players. He said his players'' faith in the team has taken the Blue Devils through the season.
"It''s special, no doubt, being able to take of these younguns," said Hubbert, who coaches the defensive backs and the girls basketball team. "Coaches sometimes like to compare our games to life, and a lot of times this is not really true. This year, it hits a little more home."
Brandon Crawford, who coaches the receivers, has been with the Blue Devils for five years. He went to the 2008 championship game.
"(The 2008 Blue Devils) were pretty good," Crawford said. "We made a run at it, but we got a couple of players injured."
The 2010 Sulligent team plays like a family and believes in being a family, Crawford said.
"They bought into that," he said. "We really had some injuries this year we had to overcome."
With every adversity, however, the team''s bond has become that much tighter.
"Every time something happens, they just pull together," Crawford said. "Like coach Hubbert said, ''We just close ranks and move on.''"
One important key to the team''s success has been the standard set by the seniors, Crawford said.
"The seniors just bought in," he said. "Anytime you get senior leadership to believe in what you''re doing, it''s good. They keep young guys who sometimes don''t get to play as much involved in the team."
Hubbert said he has seen the same feeling among his coaches, who came to the school at different times and joined together.
"The spirit just develops," Hubbert said. "Every one of the coaches has been fantastic. Everybody has helped me, has stepped up."
The Blue Devils started the season on the wrong foot. In the first of two losses (both shutouts), Sulligent lost to Hamilton Ala.) 43-0 in the season opener Aug. 26. Hamilton will face Madison Academy in another third-round Class 3A game Friday.
Hubbert said the Blue Devils had execution troubles and faced a former teammate.
"The first loss was the opener; we didn''t play well," Hubbert said. "(Steven) Stewart at Hamilton was here last year, and we had six or seven turnovers."
Stewart led the Blue Devils in rushing in 2009 with 168 carries for 1,063 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes for 258 yards, and completed 5 of 10 passes for 124 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. On defense, he had 41 tackles and four interceptions.
The second loss was a 14-0 defeat to Lamar County on Sept. 30.
"Lamar County has a good team," Hubbert said. "Coach (Ken) Adams is a classy coach. ... Our motto since we took over has been ''No excuses.''"
Today, Sulligent will travel in a bus for more than three hours to Lineville, which defeated Westbrook 27-7 last week. Sulligent defeated Huntsville Westminster Christian 40-19.
Hubbert said he and Lineville coach Steve Giddens each have a healthy respect for each other''s team.
"I talked to the Lineville coach and discussed the logistics about Friday," said Hubbert, whose school has been in the playoffs 17 of the past 24 years. "Lineville is one of those teams that''s always there on the list of playoff teams."
Hubbert said Sulligent will have to contend with Lineville''s team speed.
"They are very quick, the quickest team we''ll play against this year," he said. "Their speed is as good as or better than Hamilton."
Hubbert hopes the 187-mile ride won''t affect how the Blue Devils combat the Aggies'' speed. He said long drives can wear down young players.
"I hope we sleep all the way," he said.
1. New Hope beats Leake Central to clinch playoff spot HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. EMCC will induct six into Sports Hall of Fame COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Balance on offense fuels MSU's victory against BYU COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Ole Miss feeling good again after big win at home COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Alabama beats Mississippi State in double overtime COLLEGE SPORTS