By Doug Gorman
Two years ago, the Mt. Vernon Crusaders football team won the Georgia Christian Athletic Association state title.
Friday night the Crusaders begin the 2004 campaign with championship dreams again weighing heavily on their minds.
Mt. Vernon opens its season at home against fellow Southern Crescent foe Lake Dow in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
The key for Mt. Zion early in the season will be trying to overcome its youth and inexperience. Head coach C.E. Rhoades has spent pre-season drills trying to get his more inexperienced players ready for competition.
"They are tired of practicing, but this group of kids realizes we are not ready. This is new to some of them and they are having a hard time adjusting, but the work ethic has been very good, and we will come along."
Rhoades expects a tough challenge in the opener.
"I don't know a whole lot about them, but they should be improved. I have heard they have had some players transfer into their school," he said.
Rhoades' clubs have been one of the top Georgia Christian Athletic Association teams in the state for years, but heading into this season, he has only four seniors on the roster.
The upperclassmen are ready to hit the ground running.
Lineman Justin Smith says it will be up to the guys upfront to set the tone for the Crusaders.
"We are pretty stout, we have a pretty good line this year, so that is going to be the key," Smith said.
Although it's a small collection of upperclassmen, the seniors are looking forward to getting the season starting Friday night.
A year ago, Mt. Vernon's hopes for a second-straight state title ended early in the playoffs. That has left a bad taste in the mouths of the players.
"The seniors want to go out on a high note," said John Fairly. "We have been working hard and I think we can do it."
Senior Nathan Cook, one of the top skilled players for the Crusaders, said "the younger members of the team are catching on quickly."
"They are catching on really quick," he said. "So some of the bigger guys are able to run over them, but they are there every time. They know where they are supposed to be.
Cook has been impressed with the way all the seniors are helping bring the younger players along.
"First we want to have God, of course, but we want to set and leave a good example for the younger players," Cook said.
Kevin Campbell comes back to the team after sitting out last year. Campbell was part of the state title team and also wants to go out on a high note.
"I am looking forward to stepping up and helping be a leader on this team," he said. "When I was younger, the seniors helped me. It puts a little pressure on you, to be able to perform, but it also puts pressure on me spiritually to be the testimony I need to be."
Campbell said to get back to taste everyone is going to have to play as a unit. Cook agrees.
"Defense wins championships, and offenses sell tickets," Cook said.