Westminster Catawba Christian School's football team was supposed to be better last year, but making it to the state championship was looking as hard as climbing Mount Rushmore with just a rope.
Gone was coach Ben McGarity, who in his two years had brought the team back to prominence. In came Dan Devine, no not that one, who had been successful at Hickory Grove in N.C.and was familiar with the team he was inheriting.
But a state championship trip seemed so far away, even if it was a goal his players set. Fact be known, every team in the country makes that its ultimate goal.
But the Indians started winning and kept winning all the way to the final against Concord's First Assembly coached by former Carolina Panthers player Mike Minter. First Assembly won, 27-7, but it was much better than the 34-0 win in the regular season.
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The Indians were 7-0 before losing in their eighth game and ended with a 10-2 record.
"We were ahead 7-0 midway through the third quarter," senior quarterback Mark Vehaun said. "We dropped a pass in the end zone that would have put us up 14-0. We had a couple of players go down with cramps and it was like before we knew it , they scored two touchdowns. We quit, never recovered."
Teaching his kids not to quit, to look at every bad spot and make the most of it, was preached by Devine from the first day he met with his players.
No way did Devine expect that adversity would strike his team twice in the same season, the kind that wants to make you get on your knees and say thanks for what you have.
In both cases, the players were say more than thanks. They were asking that other folks would find comfort.
The first "tragedy" came in the preseason at the Chester High School Jamboree. Westminster Catawba was playing Lewisville. During the scrimmage, Lions senior running back Brian Colvin collapsed and was quickly put in an ambulance for a trip to the hospital. He never made it. He died because of heart complications.
"It was one of the most terrible things I have ever seen at a football game," Devine said. "It had a huge effect on our players and they quickly bonded with the Lewisville team. We wear Brian's number, 3, on our helmets and will forever. They pushed their opening game back and came to ours. We were like one big team.
"Our kids realized what they had, how quick life can be taken away. It bonded us as a team. It also began a friendship with another team I believe will last forever.''
The Lions and Indians play again this year during the first quarter of the Jamboree on Friday.
"We faced an similar situation during the season when one of our senior's mom passed away," Devine said.
"That and what happened to Brian, brought out the best in our players. They were playing hard as they could for both of the people we lost."
The season also gave the Indians what they need to keep consistency going. A local business was showing 92 degrees Friday on its digital thermometer between flashing it was 9:15 a.m.
Just down road, Devine's small squad was practicing in full pads, going all out and taking advantage of the open invitation to drink water.
Vehaun looked sharp as he zipped passes on target to his receivers. He will be the glue this season. He and Steve Major, a running back/defensive back who transferred this year from Hickory Grove where he played for Devine, are the team's lone seniors.
"Getting to the championship game was great, but it was heartbreaking to lose," Vehaun said. "We had tears in our eyes. We wanted to win it for many reasons. Our main goals are to get back this season and win it.
"We have a lot of new players but feel good about our team. A lot of the players are back from last year and we came into practice this season with a lot of confidence.''
Vehaun, 6-2, 180, passed for 1,350 yards and 10 TDs.
During a mini roll call, Devine pointed out that his team has enough horses coming back to compete for the finish line. He returns starters Nate Casey (5-10 170, WR/LB); Jake Wentworth (6-1, 185, OLB/WR); Aaron McCarley (6-2, 260), OL/DL); Devante Jackson (5-9, 160, WR/CB) and Will McCutchen (5-10, 175, LB/WR.
And there's Major, who will make an immediate impact at tailback.
"Mark and I have been asked to be leaders because we are seniors and I see that as an honor," Major said. "We have to keep the other players encouraged and have been asked to help with practices.
"There are some big shoes that have to be filled but we have some good players. We tell them we know how good they can be and I think we will be stronger in some areas. They understand if just one man doesn't do his job, it might hurt the entire team."
The number of players is slightly down. Devine dressed 28 for last year's championship. He expects to have 22 to 25' on this year's roster. He didn't say, but newcomers who have a change of heart will certainly get a chance to make the team.
"We are blessed as a staff to have the kind of players we have," he aid. "We lost 12 good seniors from last year's team, but we have no complaints about this group. They take a lot of pride in what we accomplished last year. They have worked hard all spring and all summer. They want to take it one more step."