• 66°

From the Sidelines: Demopolis problems come from within

Demopolis fans, players and coaches watched as the ball spiraled through the air on what looked to be the final play of the half. DHS had found itself in a dogfight with Fayette and needed to bat this pass to the turf in order to take its 14-7 cushion to halftime. Just as scripted, a member of the Demopolis secondary was parked near the goal line. He vaulted up and put both hands on the ball. However, rather than redirecting the ball to the ground, he attempted to intercept it. When he failed to do so, it deflected off his hands and into the waiting arms of a Fayette receiver.

The last of the Demopolis lead melted away when Fayette connected on the extra-point attempt to tie the game at 14. That was the last time Demopolis held a lead. Now, six quarters of football later, DHS carries with it the discomfort of a 1-3 season and the daunting prospect that its chance at the region championship was squandered last week against Carver.

Moreover, DHS is face to face with the reality that its high hopes for the 2008 campaign could be entirely dashed if it is unable to put its recent struggles to bed and rebound with a strong finish.

Those circumstances beg the question, “What is wrong with Demopolis?” The answer to that question can be summed up in one word; Demopolis. Rather, more specifically, the problem is the team’s seniors.

The team has at its disposal an excellent collection of coaches who have implemented a high-caliber scheme and has spent more than its fair share of time focusing on fundamentals. So coaching clearly is not the problem.

While the blame for troubles will always be shouldered by the head coach, to so freely cast it upon Tom Causey in this instance would be unmerited.

Even though the second-year head man humbly and gracefully accepts the burden that accompanies his team’s early season struggles, the squad’s deficiencies are not the result of poor coaching.

As difficult of a truth as it may be to swallow, the Demopolis deficiencies are almost solely the result of an absence of leadership.

Do not misunderstand that statement. Demopolis’ failures as a team to this point in the season come primarily as the result of a talented group of 13 seniors who have yet to assume the accountability of experience that accompanies their status on the team.

The unkind truth is that the Demopolis sideline was flat from the outset Friday night against Carver. Almost to a man, DHS players appeared to know they were beaten before the ball was even kicked off.

Even when Demopolis showed signs of life during the first half of that game, the players along the sideline seemed nearly apathetic.

That comes not as the result of coaching, but rather as the end product of a lack of an emotional leadership that can be provided only by a team’s most experienced and influential players.

The charge of leading this team is not one of which these 13 players are incapable. Each of those 13 is both talented and intelligent. However, to this juncture of their young football careers they have yet to show the moxie that sets the tone for championship teams.

Against Chilton County, Demopolis entered the game fired up and ready to flex its muscle. Against Wetumpka and Fayette, the squad more or less rolled over and conceded the game at some point in the fourth quarter. But against Carver, the team that Demopolis knew it would need to beat to meet its season goal of reigning supreme as region champion, the young men who call themselves Tigers showed virtually no bite.

They walked onto the field with all the meekness of lambs knowingly headed for slaughter and it was not until they spotted Carver 22 points that Demopolis players first realized they could, in fact, compete with the vaunted Wolverines.

All great teams possess an unmistakable swagger. It is an intangible element that confidently exclaims to opponents, “We know how good we are. And by night’s end, you will too.”

That swagger is not inherent. It has to be earned. It comes from hours spent laboring on a practice field. It comes from every player pushing himself toward a goal he cannot see but somehow knows is there. It comes from every individual finding some previously undetected level of commitment solely for the benefit of every other individual on the roster.

Its first fruits can be seen at the end of a hard day of practice when the team is running sprints and all the way up and down the line of players, every young man has his shoulders forward, his head down and his legs driving.

Swagger is born of a unity so strong that one player can walk up to another, look him in the eye, reprimand his lack of effort and correct his mistake without fear of creating a disruption in team chemistry.

Swagger exists at programs like Sweet Water, where every player sells out everyday from the first practice of the spring through the last game of the playoffs.

Swagger is not about talent, ability or records. It’s about commitment. It’s about an inherent knowledge that Friday night’s adversary failed to outwork you on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Swagger is no respecter of talent. If it were, Demopolis would have an abundance of both. As is, there has been very little confidence in the DHS strut of late.

And the reason is simple, a lack of leadership.

The DHS seniors are good kids. In addition to being talented players, they are good students. They possess good hearts and strong character off the football field. But the greatest enemy of their success on the football field is their inability to take ownership of their team both in word and deed.

Sadly, the end-of-practice running sessions are often marred by seniors whose unwillingness to exert themselves is evident even to the most casual of onlookers. Worse yet, other players notice the lack of effort but do nothing to chastise or encourage their teammates.

In much the same manner, that willingness to lead by either example or encouragement has been noticeably evident along the Demopolis sideline over the past two games. Discouraged DHS players have received little redirection from their supposed leaders.

In fact, the most noticeably enthusiastic players have typically been freshmen and sophomores whose uniforms have yet to boast grass stains. That reality, while offering encouraging news for Demopolis’ future, speaks volumes about the state of its present.

Simply put, Demopolis still has every opportunity to achieve great things this season. However, it will only be able to do so if every player, to a man, finds it in himself to put himself aside for the betterment of the team. But it has to start with 13 seniors.