ALBANY — There has been something different about the football players this week at Westover High School.
To use an old coaching cliché’, the players are “hustling more.” They’re working harder. And they’re arriving at practice a little earlier and staying a little bit later.
It’s the same way across town at Monroe High School.
Which means there can only be one explanation — it must be rivalry week.
For a pair of 1-2 teams, the winner of tonight’s game between the two will not only have bragging rights for the next 300-plus days but will also start the Region 1-AAAA schedule with a victory. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Hugh Mills Stadium.
“Our guys understand the importance of this game,” Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. “It’s a big opportunity for us in region play. We’ve had a good week of practice. We’ve just got to transfer our efforts from practice this week to (tonight).”
Westover coach Octavia Jones said he hasn’t had to do much motivating.
“These guys play each other in middle school coming up,” Jones said. “I haven’t had to say much this week. Our goal around here is to play for region and state championships. Winning this game against Monroe will help us take a step forward to achieving our goals.”
Monroe lost a tough game against Fitzgerald last week. Truitt said beating a city rival can get things rolling in the right direction. The Tornadoes, who are led by reigning Herald Player of the Year and star QB Charles Stafford, can’t slip up much the rest of the season. Every game remaining on the schedule is a region contest.
“All the kids on both teams know each other,” Truitt said. “It’s a friendly-type rivalry. But by winning this game, we could take a big step to accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves.”
Herald No. 5 Westover will be the home team for the first time this year, which Jones said will be welcomed. The Patriots have been on the road at Tift County, Jonesboro and Lee County. Playing in front of the home fans, as well as being the only high school game in town tonight brings added pressure.
But one thing Jones has been pleased with, despite two losses, has been his team’s resiliency. In the Patriots’ losses to Tift County and Lee County, he said his players never quit despite trailing by large margins.
“Those guys haven’t quit,” Jones said. “But we have to minimize the mistakes we’ve been doing, which have come at inopportune times and caused some of our drives to stall. We need to get our mistakes minimized so we can start to see some success.”
Both teams hope that success starts tonight.