By Jeff Rancudo
Even in the tough times — like Friday night’s 42-6 loss to visiting Ringgold at Colts Stadium — you can see Coahulla Creek High School football coach Jared Hamlin’s refusal to quit.
There was no disguising the power and talent the Tigers (7-1, 5-0 in Region 5-3A) had when Christian Plotts’ 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the game’s first play got their machine off to strong start.
“This is the best team I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Tigers coach Robert Akins, who is in his seventh season leading the program.
But as the Colts’ hard-fought loss faded into the cold night, one couldn’t help but catch a glimmer in the eye of Hamlin, who believes that progress is slow but sure for Coahulla Creek (2-6, 1-4).
“The last several weeks we’ve done a lot of good things,” Hamlin said. “Every week we have. But things keep popping up along the way like penalties.
“I told the guys, ‘You’ve got to make your own luck.’ But Ringgold is a very talented team. I still love the heart of our kids. They played with high intensity, and I’m proud because they kept fighting. And that’s an improvement from last year. There were times last year when we didn’t fight all the way through.”
In a game in which Ringgold held the physical advantage at many positions, Hamlin started three sophomores on the offensive line and four at linebacker. He was facing a talented dual threat quarterback in the Tigers’ Slade Dale — who has committed to the University of Georgia to play baseball — and the Colts gave up big plays to start and end the first half. Ringgold running back Kile Sholl rushed for 106 yards, three touchdowns and returned a kickoff 68 yards to set up a 27-yard touchdown pass to J.T. Roach 47 seconds before halftime.
But you can be sure finding excuses for the loss wasn’t in Hamlin’s postgame talk. Yes, the Colts self-destructed four times in the first half when their personal foul calls extended scoring drives for the Tigers. But like Hamlin has taught his team, you can always find ways to improve and fight to the end of the play, the game and the season.
Friday, several Colts shined. Cameron Burton scored on a 7-yard run for the Colts’ only touchdown of the game in the second-quarter — the Tigers were up 35-6 at halftime — and Hamlin said it was Burton’s best rushing game of the year. Darius Miller reeled off kickoff returns of 33, 26 and 26 yards and intercepted a Dale pass. Defensive tackle Cristian Castro stuffed numerous run attempts by the Tigers, as did Joel Phillips. Hamlin also praised the play of Baley Jones and Cody McKinney.
Akins also sees a bright future for Hamlin and the Colts. Patience is key, he believes.
“I called coach Hamlin and told him it takes time to get your philosophy in,” Akins said. “I said, ‘They’ve got to give you time to get your personality in.’”