JONESBORO, Ga. — Have you ever been glad that you were wrong?
That was me. Friday night at around 10:30 p.m. I went on record saying that the Jonesboro football team was going to go to Sandy Creek, put up a good fight and falter in the end.
It was no disrespect to Jonesboro’s program, or to coach Tim Floyd, whom I have a ton of respect for. It was just that I was looking at things from the eyes of a sportswriter. A high school football analyst.
It wasn’t personal. In fact, if it had been personal I would’ve picked the upset. Not because I felt Jonesboro had better depth or far superior talent than the Fayette County powerhouse. It was just because it was time.
It was time for Floyd to win one of these. Floyd is, as the old cliche says, that guy that you want to root for. If you’ve ever spoken with the seventh-year Cardinals coach, or observed his behavior on the sidelines or on the practice field, you’ll know that he’s not a sideline general of the rah-rah variety.
He’s not the grab your face mask and get in your face kind of guy. He’s pretty soft spoken as far as football coaches go. He’s actually one of the most humble people in the game of football you’ll ever meet.
He’s not a chatterbox or a quote machine. I remember my first game of his I covered. I had just started stringing for the Clayton News Daily in Clayton County, and my first live game coverage assignment was to go to Twelve Oaks Stadium and cover a marquee matchup between Lovejoy and Jonesboro. I was told these were the two best teams in Clayton County at the time.
It was an ugly, defensive, smash mouth game. Lovejoy won it 9-0. When I talked with Floyd afterward, he was so short with his comments that I began to think I was getting on his nerves after about my third question. It was a stark contrast to the gregarious then-Lovejoy coach Al Hughes.
But over time I found out that that was just Floyd’s way. What you see is what you get. He’s unflappable. But don’t mistake that unflappability for a lack of intensity. Floyd’s players know when he means business — kind of like after the Sandy Creek game when he admonished his excited bunch of Cardinals to be wary of hubris and overconfidence.
After that, in almost a whisper, he spoke about going to his home town of Albany next week to take on Westover. Immediately the players knew what that meant. It was Floyd’s way of showing that he was already thinking about that game — his personal homecoming. So some of his players responded.
“We gon’ take em, Coach!” one yelled. That touched off a raucous response from the rest of the sweaty young men in white and red, whooping and hollering about a game still seven days away even as they celebrated the biggest win in program history that was only 15 minutes old.
And it is the program’s biggest win. Make no mistake about it. For a school that’s only had four 9-win seasons in almost 70 years of play, you know that knocking off the Sandy Creeks of the world hasn’t happened often. But that moment with his team showed me something about the gentle giant.
He’s a competitor.
I know we are trained to think that being a competitor in the big, brash world of top level football — be it high school, college or NFL — means you’ve got to be loud, aggressive and mean.
Well, with Floyd, you’ve gotta look a little bit deeper — read between the lines a little further — to see his competitive streak. But trust me, it’s there.
Case in point: As he was walking out of The Battlefield in Tyrone back to the team buses, I asked Floyd if this was the biggest win in his coaching career and in Jonesboro’s history. His response was classic.
“I’d have to say that it probably is the biggest one,” he said. Then a pause before he added, “For now.”
You don’t need me to enumerate that for you, do you? That’s Floyd’s understated, tongue-in-cheek way of saying, “I expect us to have a lot more to cheer about at the end of the season than this one game at Sandy Creek.”
It wasn’t just nice for Floyd to win. He expects the best from his team and from himself. And he expects more in 2015 than just one high-water mark game in Week 2 of the season. But the best thing about him is, win or lose, he knows how to put it all into the right perspective.
Like Friday night as he addressed his team, for about 60 seconds he literally turned the moment into a call-and-response fit for a Sunday morning church service.
“You guys have to remember what you’re playing for and who you’re playing for,” Floyd said.
“Amen, coach,” the team shouted back. That “who” Floyd was talking about wasn’t him, or the other coaches, or the fans, or the parents or even their teammates.
It was Jesus Christ.
In case you didn’t know it, Floyd is a man of great faith. He, along with the late Eagle’s Landing coach Joe Teknipp, are the ones who really helped spur a movement of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes among football teams in Henry and Clayton counties.
It’s a movement I’ve had the privilege of being a part of myself, having spoken to several groups of student-athletes and seeing young, tough football players break down and give their lives to Christ.
And it’s not a gimmick either. It’s not something Floyd does to trick his guys into thinking that they’ll win more football games if they read their Bibles and say their prayers.
“The thing that’s bigger than the game is getting these young men to live lives to where they can be role models to others down the road,” Floyd said to me in an interview last fall, just before the Chick-Fil-A sponsored FCA Classic game his team would play against Eagle’s Landing.
“I don’t force my faith or beliefs on any of them,” he continued. “But for those who want it, I have no problem sharing it.”
So yeah, I admit it. I committed the sportswriter’s cardinal sin (pun-intended). I rooted for Floyd and Jonesboro in my heart while expecting Sandy Creek to win in my head. By the way, I love the fact that I get the chance to now cover one of the state’s top programs in Sandy Creek. Their home field experience is second to none.
The Patriots are one of the three Southern Crescent area teams I’ve picked to be state championship contenders, so I’ll definitely pick for them more than against them.
But Friday night was Jonesboro’s night. More specifically, it was coach Floyd’s night. And even though God shouldn’t be seen as any football team’s lucky charm, I can’t help but to believe that living right paid off just a little bit for Floyd and company in Tyrone.
Maybe…just maybe…when it’s all said and done, we’ll look back at this one and not say it was an upset.
Maybe it was just time for a man of God to make a come-up.
Gabriel Stovall is the founding editor of thecrescentbuzz.com. He can be reached for story ideas, comments and criticisms at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1, and follow the Southern Crescent Buzz @crescent_buzz.