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Something's gotta give

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CUTHBERT -- There's no truth to the rumor that Randolph-Clay coach Daniel McFather locked his kids in the weight room at the end of the 2009 season, and didn't let them out until August.

The truth is, he let them out for Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July.

Well, almost. The Red Devils might not have spent every minute in the weight room, but they made it their home away from home, and McFather didn't need a lock and key. Just a pep talk.

After a bitter 14-13 loss to Pelham on the final day of the 2009 season that kept Randolph-Clay out of the playoffs, McFather didn't have to say much.

"There were a lot of tears after that game,'' McFather said. "They really took it hard. I gave them a week off and then we had a meeting, and I told them if you want to win next year, you need to get in the weight room.''

By the time the Red Devils emerged from the aptly named Devils' Den weight room, they looked, felt and acted like a new team. Just ask their first two opponents, who have been run over by Randolph-Clay, which outscored Kendrick and Baconton Charter by a combined score of 107-24.

That's a 2-0 start for a program that won three games over the past two years, and tonight Randolph looks to move to 3-0 against Albany.

"I challenged them to have a commitment,'' McFather said. "They got in the weight room and they worked hard. I don't think many of them missed a single day, all through the school year and (voluntary workouts) during the summer. We're a lot stronger, a lot faster and a lot more physical.''

It shows.

"We had weights before coach Mac got here, but everything changed when he got here,'' Dominique Jackson, a two-way lineman who also plays at linebacker, said Thursday. "He pushed us, and we told ourselves we needed to work harder. We're committed.''

McFather knew he had to do something. He's a graduate of Randolph-Clay and coached there 12 years before leaving and spending 11 years coaching at other schools then returning last year.

"We just needed to turn things around,'' he said.

The turn continues tonight against a program that is trying to do the same thing. There's been a resurrection at Albany High, where the Indians have a new coach and a new look after winning just two games in the previous four seasons. Even though it's not a region game, there's a lot at stake tonight.

The Indians are 1-2 and have been competitive in both losses, including a 23-14 lightning-shortened loss to Monroe last week. Felton Williams, in his first year as the head coach, has Albany going in the right direction, but his team meets a force tonight in Cuthbert, where a big crowd is expected for the 8 p.m. kickoff.

"Everyone is talking about the football team now,'' R-C quarterback Calvin Paramore said. "When you go into town, people want to talk about the football team.''

It's a running conversation.

Nobody runs like the Devils. Cardaryle Curry has gained 241 yards and scored four TDs while playing only the first half in the two blowouts, and Johnny Foster has gained 248 yards and scored seven TDs while playing the first half of those games.

"I dedicate it all to the offensive line,'' Curry said.

When Curry was told that when former NFL star O.J. Simpson used to buy his offensive linemen a new car every year, he smiled.

"If I had the money, I'd buy them any car they wanted,'' Curry said.

The big men up front who do all the blocking even have a nickname.

"I call them 'The Swamp,' " said Larry Rogers, a defensive lineman and linebacker who occasionally plays on the offensive line. "I call them The Swamp because it gets nasty down in there.''

That name will stick, because McFather's front is just that good. They are blowing people off the ball and allowing their coach to run the offense he loves.

"People know we're going to run. I know they are going to stack the line against the run, but we're going to do what we're going to do,'' McFather said.

The Red Devils will, however, throw the ball. In their 47-6 win against Class AAA Kendrick, McFather got tired of Kendrick's stacked line against the run, so he called a pass play.

"Our tight end (Tim Stinger) was so wide open he was doing jumping jacks in the end zone,'' McFather said.

The other day in practice, R-C's defensive coach David Parker decided to put 12 players on defense without mentioning it to anyone just to slow down the offense.

It didn't work.

"It doesn't matter,'' Jackson said. "We will run the play over and over in practice to get it right, and they can put 12 against us. It just makes us work harder and get better.''

How much better? No one is certain yet, but McFather felt it would come together this year.

"When I got here I wanted to bring smash-mouth football to this team,'' he said. "Look at these guys. They can play smash-mouth football. I told them (at the beginning of the season) that they would surprise a lot of people, but they wouldn't surprise me. I think they're going to shock people in the community and people in the state.''

But the fast start hasn't left anyone swooning.

"We're not going to get a big head,'' Paramore said. "It's all about working hard and getting better. I don't even like to leave practice.''

That work-first mentality is working at R-C, but every player is still motivated by that one-point loss to Pelham.

"I think about it. We talk about it,'' Jackson said. "We know how important this year is. When we lost last year, we felt like we let the seniors down. This year, we're the seniors. We said our senior year is not going to end like that.''

That's part of the equation, too. R-C has 23 seniors on the roster, and some played on the 2007 team that featured Chris Clay, who had a record-breaking game the last time Randolph-Clay faced Albany, rushing for 469 yards -- the third most in Georgia history, in all classes. Clay's brother was one of the top players on this year's team, but Emmanuel Clay, a safety, is out with a leg injury.

The Red Devils may need all the help they can get in the secondary, because Albany likes to throw and quarterback Emmanul Byrd has the poise and arm to get the job done. It could end up a high-scoring game between two teams with opposite approaches to the game.

Look for Albany receiver Roy Jones to have a big night. Jones spent three years at Randolph-Clay High before his parents moved to Albany this year.

"He's looking forward to the game,'' Albany coach Felton Williams said. "He keeps saying: "I'm going home, and I'm going to have a good game.' "

Albany (1-2) is coming off a tough 23-14 loss to Monroe in a game that ended with 2:30 left in the third quarter because of lightning.

"We didn't tackle well against Monroe,'' Williams said. "We've got to tackle better this week. Randolph-Clay is a physical team with two great running backs. If you let them get going, they can really hurt you. You miss a tackle against those guys, and they'll make you pay."

Williams then added: "Speed is speed. Either you've got it, or you're chasing it. They've got it, and I hope we're not chasing it.''

Randolph-Clay used to be in the same Class AA region with Albany until the school dropped to Class A in 2008, so there is a bit of a rivalry between the two teams. Randolph-Clay holds the edge in the series, 6-4, and has won the last three.

Albany is also trying to re-surface in football. This is the best Indians team in years after winning just two games over the previous four seasons. This is Williams' first year as a head coach and his team could improve to 2-2 tonight.

"We had a real good week of practice,'' Williams said. "We're looking forward to getting back on track.''

It's a big game for both programs, and the last before they both go separate ways and enter region play next week.

"Region is what counts,'' Jackson said. "But this is a big game and we have to take care of business (now before we think about) region.''

Randolph-Clay's first Region 1-A game is against Pelham.

"Yeah, we remember the Pelham game. But this is a different team. This is a new era.''