The veterans of the R.A. Hubbard football team say the right things.
They want to be a more cohesive group. They want to play with pride. They want to honor the memory of two classmates, D.J. Wiggins and Javion Brown, who died in a car accident in the summer.
But what pleases coach Mac Hampton most lately is when he sees the Chiefs acting in a way that backs up those verbal statements.
“Talk is cheap. Everybody talks a good game,” Hampton, the fifth-year coach, said. “They’ll tell you my favorite saying is I’d rather see a sermon than hear one preached.”
A few of those veterans stifled laughter hearing Hampton repeat that phrase one morning this summer. How many times have they heard it?
“I can’t even count on my fingers,” senior lineman Armon Clay said.
R.A. Hubbard showed last fall it could compete with any team in Class 1A, Region 8, dropping games to Decatur Heritage and Waterloo by seven and two points, respectively, and knocking off Hackleburg by two. The Chiefs routed the region’s four non-playoff teams by more than 40 points each.
But this year represents a good opportunity for the Chiefs to put pressure on Decatur Heritage and any other contender. A few extra successes this year could mean the team’s first region title since 2013.
“I’ve learned that some of them are really walking the walk,” Hampton said. “They’re not just talking. Some of them have shown me they’re serious about it. Instead of just saying ‘I want to be good,’ putting in the work to be good.”
Wiggins and Brown died June 8. Each was a two-way player who not only needed to make gains and tackles for a relatively small team but also brought a personal influence to the group that is now missing.
“We just decided to get together, reminisce on the good times,” senior center Orlanda Fells said. “You can’t do anything else. You can sit at home and cry all day, but you’ve still got stuff to do. We’ll just be there for each other.”
The Chiefs probably understand better than many high school football teams how important it is to be able to lean on each other for support.
“Unity is everything now,” Hampton said.
Clay said part of Hampton’s job is “teaching us that we’re more than football players, we are a family. We should stick together. We should fight together, cry together, bleed together.”
Tyran Murphy, a senior running back/cornerback, has heard Hampton remind the players that everyone will need to contribute.
“Last year we really were depending on several people, not the whole team,” Murphy said. “This year we need everybody. We need a closer bond. Everybody’s just got to do their job.
“What do they say? Five fingers make a whole fist.”
Hampton challenged the players throughout the summer to make sure they struggled at times and realized they could handle it and conquer it.
Better to make mistakes and learn from them in the offseason to be sharper when the season starts Friday at home against Sheffield. “On our good days, you can see everybody on the team, the potential in everybody,” Murphy said. “On our good days, we really are a playoff team.”