By Gabriel Stovall
HAMPTON, Ga. — Check Greg Manior’s pillow and mattress to find out how he feels about this year’s Mundy’s Mill football team.
“With you guys, with this group of guys, I have peace at night,” Manior said when addressing his team after Wednesday’s practice. “I can sleep at night.”
His words aren’t just a humorous anecdote, either. Manior said he literally had moments where wondering about his team, how they would perform or react in certain situations, would keep him awake long into the wee hours of the morning.
But this year is different. Manior has his smallest senior class in his four year tenure at Mundy’s Mill — just 15 players are scheduled to graduate in 2016. But the difference? They are his seniors.
“The peace I have this year is that these freshmen arrived at Mundy’s Mill the same time I did,” Manior said. “All these kids are mine. They’ve come under my umbrella, and they know the routine. They know how to act and they know the discipline we have. That feels good at night, knowing that my guys are doing what needs to be done.”
Hence the reason why he feels the current version of Mundy’s Mill football has as good a chance as any to finally knock off Lovejoy — something that hasn’t happened since a 28-14 win against the Wildcats back in 2007.
Since then, Lovejoy has ripped off seven straight wins with a combined score of 230-62.
“It’s definitely not because we think Lovejoy is down this year,” Manior said. “I think it’s because of how we’ve improved. I don’t believe that Lovejoy is down at all. They’ve got some young kids, but they still get after it. They’ve got great kids, great coaches and always have some great athletes. We’ve just come a long way ourselves, and our kids are confident. We’ve had some success, and we want to build on the success we’ve had.”
First-year starting quarterback Kaziah Hall put it this way:
“Coach Manior has been telling us that we’re not the same team as in years before,” Hall said. People are not gonna be able to think they can just run over us. We’re going to go out and play smash mouth football, and we’re going to compete every single play.”
Hall will have help in his first start from running back Khalid Hylton. The 5-foot-8 senior returns as both the Tigers leading rusher (114 carries, approximately 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns) and tackler (from his safety position). And he believes he and his quarterback can round into one of the area’s best offensive tandems.
“We call ourselves the Money Team, because we feel like every time we get in the end zone it’s money,” Hylton said. “We feel like we can score every time.”
Manior said Hall brings a “cerebral” part to the game that Mundy’s Mill may not have had in times past.
“Rodricous (Gates) was a gunslinger last year,” Manior said. “We’d drop back and know he’s going to throw it deep and we’d go out there and get it. He would make plays where nothing seemed able to be made. But Kaziah takes what the defense gives. He’ll get you short routes. He’ll dump it off and let guys get yards after the catch. He realizes those are his stats too.
“He’s going to stay in the game plan and try not to make any mistakes.”
Hylton boils the coach’s description down to one word.
“Versatility,” he said.
And lest you think Hall is being cast as just a glorified game manager, know that that is definitely not how he sees himself.
“I think I can bring a game-changing mentality to every game,” he said. “I feel like I can make something happen when nothing is there. I guess you could say I’m a dual threat. But I’m whatever my team needs.”
He’s got much higher praise for his Hylton, however.
That’s the best running back in the state right there, man,” Hall said pointing at a smiling Hylton. “Hands down. He runs hard and fast to get in and out of his cuts. He sees what I can’t see and is able to get me out of trouble.”
But when it comes to trying to beat Lovejoy in tonight’s Big Cat Classic — which kicks off tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Twelve Oaks Stadium — the two players are seeing exactly the same thing.
“I feel like we want this game bad,” Hylton said. “Every player that’s been here the last four years, we’ve never beat ‘em. It’ll feel good to be the first senior class to beat them in over seven years.”
And Hall believes a win against Lovejoy could set the stage for a special 2015 season.
“We want to win this game more than any other year,” Hall said. “If we win tis ballgame, it can catapult our season and make us want to drive to win even more.”