On Oct. 1, 2010, Murray County won a high school football game against Pickens. Zach Broome, Seth Gilbert, Clayton Thornbury and Jordan Walls were just freshmen.
Three years later — after all the running clocks, lopsided defeats and departing classmates — they walked off the field winners once again.
Friday night belonged to the Indians from Murray County, who won 14-12 against Gordon Central to earn their first victory since that win over Pickens.
But more than just a win or the snapping of a streak, Friday night’s game was a story of four teenagers who decided not to give up.
“They are the only seniors to stick through it the entire four years,” Indians coach Chad Brewer said. “Through all the 51-6 losses. Through three head coaches. They stuck through it all. They were very emotional after the game last night, and deservedly so. It was all I could do to hold it in and keep my composure.”
In 2010, Murray County won two games. The second was a 20-13 overtime victory against Pickens. After that, the Indians didn’t leave a football field the victors for 27 consecutive games. In 2011, Murray County was awarded two games by forfeit against Dalton and Southeast Whitfield for using an ineligible player. The scores when those games ended read, “Southeast 70, Murray County 0” and “Dalton 73, Murray County 0.”
They sure didn’t feel like wins when the clock ran out.
“No one wants to win by forfeit,” Walls said. “No, no they didn’t (feel like wins).”
In the 25 losses since the Pickens win, there were nine straight losses by more than 40 points. There were six losses by 50 or more points. Not a single margin was less than 14 points.
Broome, Gilbert, Thornbury and Walls were there through it all.
“Other people felt they had better things to do, but we wanted to play football,” Thornbury said.
Murray County has 12 seniors on this year’s roster. Those four are the only ones who started as freshmen and never left.
“We don’t have a lot of athletes in the school who are willing to play for a team with a 20-game losing streak,” Walls said. “I told everyone last year we had a D-I offensive line walking around the school. Offensive line is everything in football. ... A couple kids came out during the spring last year and looked good. One of them came out in the spring and hurt his MCL and was hurt for the first two games of the season. When he saw we were losing those games, he decided to fade out of the program. He graduated last year.
“I told the team on the way back home, it’s possible we have some people come out and get on the team now that we’ve won and have a win under our belts. I told them we need to stick with the original us. ... If you’re not going to be with us when we’re losing, then you won’t be with us when we win.”
It’s easy to stick with something when you have such a long-standing winning tradition, like at Dalton. It’s easy to stick with something when you are part of a program with five straight state championship game appearances, like at Calhoun. It’s easy to stick with something when you’re playing alongside Vonn Bell, like at Ridgeland.
It’s easy to stick with something when you have some concrete success.
For three years, those four players didn’t.
“I thought it would never happen,” Broome said. “It’s tough to keep coming back when all you’re doing is losing.”
Did they ever consider quitting? Of course they did.
“The four seniors, we’ve talked a lot and talked about those times we wanted to leave and when we didn’t think it would be worth it,” Walls said.
Said Thornbury, “The way I was brought up, I would never quit in the middle of the season. I did hesitate at the start of this season, but I ended up playing because I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Thornbury didn’t get to play Friday; he’s out for the rest of the season after a fracture to his tibial plateau and torn meniscus in his knee from the first game versus Coahulla Creek. And none of the other three scored either of the two touchdowns — quarterback Justin “Jug” Smith handled that just fine.
However, touchdowns and wins are “bonuses,” Walls said. It’s not giving up and being part of the solution, even if your life isn’t perfect.
“The real prize is being with the team I’ve grown up with for the last four years and being part of a senior class that I feel will turn around our luck,” Walls said.
There will be more struggles in life — bigger ones than football — for those four men, and I call them “men” because they are just that. I said earlier they left the field Friday as winners. Truth is, they won every time they came back for a Monday practice following a loss. Heart isn’t determined by how many times you knock someone down, but by how many times you get up after being knocked down.
And to make it through life, you need a lot of heart, because you’ll need to have the strength to keep fighting after getting knocked down.
“It’s only human nature to say, ‘Here we go again. Another head coach. Do I really want to do this? I can go get a job and make money.’ There’s so much other stuff to do but they stuck with it and I have an unbelievable amount of respect for them,” Brewer said. “Those guys will become good people. I know they will become good dads, good husbands and do good at work. That’s what we need in the world.”
Everyone, including me, has problems. It could be finances, family, job, appearance, substance abuse, friendships or whatever.
It could be fighting to keep something or someone you don’t want to let go, or fighting to get rid of something or someone you don’t need.
For a lot of us, the problems seem tough. They seem hard. It seems like we’ll never get through them. We feel lost and hopeless. And, at times, we want to give up fighting. We want to quit.
But Zach Broome, Seth Gilbert, Clayton Thornbury and Jordan Walls didn’t quit.
So let’s follow their example. Eventually, just like them, you’ll find yourself in the victory formation.
Devin Golden is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.