After playing one another in the season opener 12 weeks ago, Covington and Munford both have legitimate shots at a state title
Covington’s fans, coaching staff and, to a certain degree, players know exactly what a run to the state title game looks and feels like.
The Chargers have made it to high school football’s ultimate game six times: 1971, 2000, 2003, 2012, 2017 and 2018.
Current head coach J.R. Kirby was a part of the final three runs to state as an assistant coach.
Covington has been undefeated when it got there. In other years, the team had a loss or two. This year’s team has two setback on its record, but both were against teams (Haywood and Covington) in higher classifications that are undefeated this year. Covington has dominated everyone else on its schedule.
It could easily be argued that there’s not a team in the state with two more impressive losses on its resume.
Kirby likes to compare this team to the one in 2017 that lost its season opener to Munford and before going in a run to state.
“We’ve been through so many tough losses it’s like everything has been preparing us for now,” Kirby said. “I tell them, ‘Tough times don’t last, tough people do.’ These seniors have stuck with me. They told me they were different. They told me in the offseason they were going to be different. Nothing against last year’s seniors, but this group is that group that was mostly together in middle school. They’re a tight group, You can see that with them.”
Covington’s seniors feel the energy building as the playoffs begin. They also fee like they might be flying under the radar a bit because of the success of their county rival to the south.
“I feel like more people are focused on Munford right now because they beat us, like they’re not really worried about us,” Ian Robinson said. “You might dream about (going to state), but like the coaches say, ‘You can’t think about it. You gotta go one game at a time.’”
“I think everybody wrote us off after that loss, but we just went back to work,” said Jamarion Dowell, who was recently named a Mr. Football semifinalist for the second straight season.
“Everybody wrote us off after we lost to Munford,” Dorian Robinson said. “Now that’s we’re winning again, everybody wants to jump back on the bandwagon … This year it feels more like a family, like we’re all brothers. We’ve all been through it together and we’re going through it still.”
Said Blake Travis: “It’s pretty much like they said. Since Munford everybody kind of left us in the dark. We’re just doing what we’re doing … This team feel like more of a family than some of the others in my opinion. We’re all good friends. That just makes it more fun.”
Kirby, who was the head coach at Munford in 2015 when the Cougars started the season 8-0, said he has noticed the attention Munford has received even though the Chargers have a much richer tradition.
“I think that’s a vailid point,” Kirby said. “With Munford beating us and having the success they’ve had, they need to be the talk. It’s fine with us. We just go to work.”
On paper, at least, Covington has a more favorable path to state. The Chargers’ next two playoff games will be at home against teams they have already routed this season.
“These kids here, they want to go play for a state championship. They wanted to win a region championship because they had been so close and they got that done. They want go play at state and their motivated to do that … They know what they’ve been through and they’re just hungry for it.”
It’s been well-documented that this year’s version of the Munford Cougars is the first in program history to finish a regular season at 10-0.
Now, with a second round playoff looming Friday against Springfield, the Cougars have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done since 1997, well before any of this year’s players were even born: make it to the quarterfinals.
The 1997 team made it all the way to the title game before falling to Riverdale. There’s a long way to go and some very tough teams to beat before Munford can get to Chattanooga, but head coach Slade Calhoun knows one thing: His players don’t lack the confidenct to get it done.
“(Quarterback) Jordan Bell feels like he’s the best player on the field,” Calhoun said. (Isaiah) Cobbs, too. It’s kind of rubbed off on everybody … There have been times in the past where maybe there were some guys questioning whether we could win or not. These guys don’t think anybody can beat them.”
There has been some negative energy swirling from outsiders looking at Munford’s resurgence from a distance. Two of Munford’s key players – Cobbs and running back Braxton Sharp – transferred to Munford during the offseason.
“I don’t deal with it,” Calhoun said. “The kids could care less. Yeah, we’ve had a couple of guys move in, but we played a team (Southwind) that probably had 20 or 25 guys move in … Here’s the thing: In a small down like Munford, where everybody kind of knows everybody, some people want to make a big deal of it. I’ve got a pretty good memory. When we played Southwind I think I remembered two guys from the year before. We didn’t cry. We went in there and beat them. Nobody cares. Ten years from now nobody’s going to remember who transferred in. They’re going to remember whether you put gold trophies in the office or you didn’t.”
Calhoun said Munford has excellent faclities, a good school and a very successful programs. Why wouldn’t players be interested in playing in Munford.
“If anybody wants to move here, I’m going to welcome them with open arms. That’s the benefit when you build a good program. People want to come … I don’t understand people hating on that. If it was your own child playing any sport, or in the band, or in the ag program or academics, would you want your child to be in the school with the best test scores or the worst test scores?”
Munford’s seniors share their coach’s opinion.
“It doesn’t bother me much because we play our game and we know what we do,” said Jeremiah Sullins.
“Calhoun tells a lot,” said Zach Smith. “He’s tell us, ‘Let your feet do the walking and your pads do the talking.’ There’s nothing to talk about on the field. It’s just who wants it more. People will talk trash, but you just gotta let it go.”
“We hear it a lot, but we don’t pay attention to it,” Ethan Kehayias said. “Like he (Smith) said, pads do the talking out there.”
Added Bell: “It’s something we hear a lot, but it’s not something we’re really worried about. I mean there’s a difference between transferring and kids wanting to come to the school. If a kid wants to come to the school, we’re not going to turn him away … We all got each other. We know there are going to be haters on the outside, but we’re fine with that. We’re just trying to play ball and win a state title.”