Great stories write themselves and, in my opinion, the greatest team story in Southern Crescent football this past season belonged to the Jonesboro Cardinals.
Impressive enough was winning the most games (11) in school history, making the Elite Eight of Class 4AAAA for the first time in school history and winning the school’s first region championship since 1949. No, this is not a typo.
But the journey becomes even more impressive when you understand what they went through along the way.
After a devastating loss to Locust Grove to end the 2013 season in the region play-in game, which would’ve qualified them for the state playoffs, expectations were high going into 2014 season until junior quarterback and future Clemson Tiger Zerrick Cooper tore a knee ligament right before the season started.
The Cardinals opened with a 1-6 start which included lopsided losses: 35-6 at Sandy Creek, 34-0 at Westover, 34-6 at Griffin and a 35-13 home loss against Spalding. I was at the Griffin and Spalding games, and if you would’ve told me then that the Cardinals would make the state quarterfinals a year later, I wouldn’t have taken you very seriously.
But the seeds of resiliency began to sprout then as they closed region play with three straight wins, qualifying for the region play-in game for the second year in a row and, for the second year in a row, losing in heartbreaking fashion to Locust Grove 14-13.
It was during the final stretch of that season when head coach Tim Floyd began to see something in his team.
“The guys just kept fighting and kept pushing,” Floyd said. “The coaches kept fighting and kept pushing. Something finally clicked for us and we were able to finally get some wins. That built the confidence for everybody.
“They’re just a great group of players. The senior class now, they were juniors then and they just kept fighting. The seniors we had last year, they just kept encouraging and motivating, never giving up.”
After they won the 18-team FCA South Metro Football Combine last spring, Floyd saw how special this group could be heading towards the 2015 season.
“I knew we had talent (and fight),” he said. “It was just a matter of getting the mental and heart stuff together. I saw that we competed in a different type of way at the FCA combine. Some of the events we won, those were the events that I felt we needed to win to be consistent in the postseason.”
Floyd said he saw his team parlay the success of that spring into an even more competitive summer.
“Building off the combine, I think it finally clicked at the FCA camp what we were able to do over the summer with some of the team building stuff we did with the nightly huddle meetings,” Floyd said. “Some of the guys let go of the extra stuff that was bothering them, that wasn’t helping them on the field. They were able to share that, and find out they’re not alone. That we’re all there for support.”
Looking back, “clicked” is exactly the right word to describe what the 2015 history making Jonesboro football team would do, as they avenged every lopsided loss from the season before, beating Westover 27-7, Griffin 13-7, Spalding 21-9.
Perhaps most impressive was the shocking 17-13 upset win at Sandy Creek which essentially announced Jonesboro’s arrival to the rest of the state of Georgia. Down 14-3 to start the 4th quarter, the come from behind win, against a team that doesn’t typically lose at home, would become a trademark of the 2015 Cardinals.
After an 8-1 regular season, the Cardinals would rattle off an improbable string of fourth quarter comebacks throughout the postseason. In the pouring rain, they avenged those 2013 and 2014 season ending losses to Locust Grove en route to winning the region championship.
In the first round of the playoffs against Thomas County Central, they trailed 14-7 in the final minutes before closing out with the tying touchdown, recovering a fumble and then kicking the winning field goal. And against Carrollton, a goal line stand at the 1 yard line on 4th down with 18 seconds left allowed Jonesboro to give thanks for many things on Thanksgiving week — one of which was still having football practice on its to-do list on Thanksgiving Day.
Although the dream would come to an end against undefeated and third-ranked Cartersville, Floyd was able to keep coaching, keep teaching and keep instilling life lessons in his team as they huddled after the game.
“Don’t let wins and losses define you,” Floyd said to them after that loss. “You’re better than that!”
Upon reflecting on this team — this journey — it’s not the come from behind wins or the best-in-school-history feats that Floyd says he’ll remember most.
“I’ll remember the relationships that came out of this group,” he said. “It’s a close group and I think they took more of an understanding that it’s about relationships more than it is winning and losing.”
And that’s Coach Floyd for you — always teaching and illustrating that life transcends football and the lessons you learn on the field prepare you for life off the field.
Bill Renje is a contributing writer for thecrescentbuzz.com. He is on staff with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes where he serves schools in the South Atlanta Metro area. Follow him on Twitter @BillRenje and follow thecrescentbuzz.com @crescent_buzz.