Northwestern’s 2010 team was the first in school history to complete an undefeated state championship season.
At 14-0, the 2013 team has the opportunity to close out the school’s second perfect season. Several members of the 2010 team offered anecdotes and advice from their experience of winning the state championship, after falling at the same juncture the two previous years.
Savor the moment
Members of the 2010 team encourage this year’s Trojans to try and soak up the moment, if only briefly. That’s not easy to do.
“That whole week was just a big blur,” recalls Collins Mauldin, who walked-on at Clemson. “You spend a whole week practicing and preparing for it and it just flies by.”
“You really have to take a step back and sit down and just let it all sink in,” Mauldin said. “It’s a once in a lifetime deal. You don’t win the state championship every year.”
Wide receiver Stewart Hunt’s chance to savor the moment came during the Thursday practice at Williams-Brice Stadium two days prior to the 2010 championship game. Trojan seniors lined up and their underclassman teammates filed past, shaking their hands and telling them they’d win a ring for the senior class.
“I think it was needed,” Hunt said. “We were 14-0, we won 23 out of the last 24 games, and there was just no way we were gonna get beat. And once they (the younger teammates) said that, it was like, ‘it’s on now.’”
‘You haven’t arrived yet’
Kyle Richardson, a Northwestern assistant coach in 2010, was fond of telling members of that year’s team that though they were undefeated, they hadn’t arrived yet. Rest assured he’s uttered that phrase a time or two this year as well.
Garrison Gist, now a fullback at the University of South Carolina, remembers the satisfaction of getting back on the team bus after the Trojans dropped Greenwood in the 2010 state championship game to finish the season undefeated.
“I just remember looking at him like, ‘Hey coach, we’ve got a question for you, man. Have we arrived today?’ He kind of bust out laughing. It was something he preached all the time, so to kind of take that joke and crack it back at him after hearing it so many times throughout the season...” felt good. Really good.
Watch what you eat
Hunt always ate pregame meals with Trojan quarterback Justin Worley and receiving dynamo Robert Joseph. He remembered Joseph catching a stomach bug the day before the 2009 state final that Northwestern lost to Berkeley. Joseph played, but was an empty shell of the player that caught 150 passes that season. During the week leading up to the 2010 final, Hunt made it his personal responsibility to watch what Joseph was eating.
“I remember telling Robert from noon-time that Friday, ‘Whatever you do, just eat and don’t throw up, because we need all of you. Don’t throw up on us.’”
Harness the bitter taste of defeat
Hunt said one of his team’s primary motivations, and no doubt one that’s surfaced now and again for this year’s team, was losing in the state championship the year prior. For the 2010 team, that had happened twice after losses in both 2008 and 2009.
“I know the seniors are gonna have a chip on their shoulders, just like we did,” said Gerald Dixon Jr., a defensive lineman on that team. “It’s not a great feeling to lose state championships.”
In 2010 against Greenwood, Northwestern’s desperation to win a ring showed when they marched down the field and scored on a roughly eight-minute drive.
“From there on out, it was like ‘get the ball again,’” said Hunt.
Keep it light when all else fails
Clemson Tiger Rod Byers played on Northwestern’s 2010 defensive line with Dixon Jr., Mauldin and Andre Wade. Byers remembered Wade struggling early in the game, a situation that confused his defensive-line partners.
“We were like, ‘Come on, Andre!’” Byers said. “We didn’t know what was going on. Andre was getting drove off the ball.”
Byers went on to explain that Wade had a character that he liked to perform around teammates that he called “Peanut.” Finally, after another block by the offensive lineman dropped Wade, he looked at the blocker and said, “His name is Peanut.”
“We were like, ‘What?’” said Byers, laughing at the thought. “The dude said, ‘My name is not Peanut,’ and he said, ‘Yo name is Peanut.’”
The entire defensive line couldn’t stop laughing the rest of the game, especially as Wade flipped the tables and dominated the lineman for the remainder of the contest.
Focus on you
The last bit of advice from members of the 2010 team was perhaps the most pertinent to state championship success.
“You’re not really playing against them,” said Byers. “You’re playing against yourself. That’s how we felt. We felt if we executed our game plan to our maximum ability, there was no way we would lose, or at least be unsatisfied with our performance.”
The 2010 team proved that belief to be true. Saturday, the 2013 squad will have a chance to confirm.