WATER VALLEY – Last Friday’s 3A Championship Game was the biggest stage in Blue Devil history as pre-game hype swirled across the state and the official crowd count swelled to 6,803 fans for the 11 a.m. kickoff against the Seminary Bulldogs at MM Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg.
But for Coach Brad Embry’s Blue Devils it was business as usual for coaches and players as they notched a 34-28 victory to bring home the trophy.
“We stressed to the kids that if we do anything other than prepare to play football, we are going to be disappointed. The game won’t be decided by fanfare, pictures and interviews,” Embry explained. “They prepared well and they performed well, we were impressed on how focused the kids were on playing football.”
The win builds on an entire season of focusing on each week’s game and striving for improvement every day. The win also comes after a statement Embry made almost a decade ago when he predicted the Blue Devil program could be the best 3A program in the state.
“I don’t think a lot of folks thought I was serious, but I meant that,” Embry said after the 14-2 season came to a close with an impressive on-the-road six-game winning streak as division’s number two seed bucked the odds to become state champs.
“It’s not easy,” Embry stressed, adding the success stems from strong community support, the booster club, the band and cheerleaders along with the athletes who bought in to being the best in the state.
“I didn’t say the best team in the state, I said the best 3A program in the state and I think we are right there with the best of them,” the coach explained.
The work builds year after year, and was no different for this season, starting when last year’s team played their last game after losing in the second round of the playoffs.
“We started to work the next week in the weight room,” Embry explained.
“We also talked about how many kids were coming back, we told them they had a chance and we were going to hold them to it,” the coach continued. “They bought in. They understood they had to work hard. We have a really mature group of kids, as far as coming to practice, working hard and taking care of business. And God has also blessed them with athleticism.”
Going forward, Embry said winning the first championship is the hardest, after that the program has the blueprint.
“They don’t have to trust us, they know what we are doing is right,” Embry added about the players.
“In the past here, there have been some seasons where we were good enough and didn’t get the job done. One thing we have done this year is prayed all the time for safety and health for the players,” Embry said. “And after 15 games, we only had a couple of kids with some sore ankles, that is the power of prayer. That was a big key for us winning,” the coach added about a healthy roster of players who took the field last week.
Going forward, Embry also said the team will be back in the weight room this week with their sights on another championship.
This year there will be a little time for celebrating, and a fundraiser to purchase the state champion rings for the players. The coaches will also be working with the seniors looking for a scholarship to play at the next level and preparing the players selected to play in All Star games.
But the emphasis will remain on working hard and improving every day for Embry’s team.
“Hard work is not bad if you make it fun,” Embry said.
And what’s more fun than winning a state championship?