By Rory Sharrock
(Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of reports on Mt. Zion's Class AAAA playoff game at Marist Friday, Nov. 28)
Take a trip down memory lane to the year 1999.
The Sixth Sense gave movie patrons the chills, rumors of a Y2K computer glitch created a mild scare and the Mt. Zion Bulldogs made their opponents quiver with fear.
In 1999, Mt. Zion was the cream of the crop in the Southern Crescent and ranked as one of the elite teams in Georgia.
Under then head coach Jackie Green, the Bulldogs steam-rolled over the competition en route to a 14-1 record with an appearance in the Class AAA state championship game (Mt. Zion now competes in Class AAAA).
Mt. Zion scored 501 points and averaged 33.4 per game, but posted a season-low in the title game versus Oconee County, losing 17-7.
This squad's unprecedented numbers ranks them as the best team in school history and their legacy can still be heard throughout the hallways at Mt. Zion High School.
After that magic carpet ride in 1999, the Bulldogs fell on hard times, advancing to the playoffs only three times over the past nine seasons, including this year, with their last trip to the postseason occurring in 2004.
During this period, Mt. Zion took its share of lumps with a drop in enrollment, coaching changes and the most recent scandal involving the county's loss of accreditation.
However, the 2008 Bulldogs have turned the negative spotlight into a sun ray of hope by not only going to the playoffs, but making a whole lot of noise in the state tournament.
Mt. Zion's playoff run includes road wins over Evans, who was undefeated prior to facing the Bulldogs, and Ware County to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1999.
This Friday, the team hits the road again, making the trip to Marist High School in Atlanta for a date with the War Eagles.
Ironically, the last time these two schools met was in 1999 when Mt. Zion kicker Phil Tullar nailed a 43-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Bulldogs to a 10-7 win in the semifinals at the Georgia Dome.
Normally during road games, the personnel list for those attending includes the coaching staff, players, cheerleaders, band members and a handful of fans.
However, for this particular outing, there will be a group of special guests showing off their school spirit in support of their beloved Bulldogs' quest for a state crown.
Former Mt. Zion greats George Wilkerson, Philip Huffstickler and David Canup, all of which played on the 1999 state runner-up squad, have been invited by head coach Jarrett Laws and his staff to hang out the sidelines for Friday's match at Marist.
This trio of Bulldog legends will also be joined by ex-player turned offensive coordinator Jamie Aull to serve as the bridge from the past to the present to provide inspiration for the current team.
Aull still has fond memories of his high school days, especially the 1999 season, and everyday in practice, he's constantly preaching to his players about the importance of this moment.
"The only thing I've told them is let's just keep playing. After they got those first couple hits out the way in the first playoff game (at Evans), it's just playing football. The atmosphere is electric and everybody plays a little harder in the playoffs, but it's still football. If you do your assignment, you're going to be successful," said Aull.
"I know what it's like to lose a playoff game. I lost two of them in high school and I don't want them to feel that. Losing in the playoffs, no matter if it's in the first round like my sophomore season, or in the championship game like my senior season, hurts just as bad."
Although these former players have moved on with their lives, Mt. Zion football will always hold a special place in their hearts.
While on the sidelines and in the locker room, they plan to speak wisdom into the player's ears to help lift to team to victory against a formidable opponent such as Marist, which ended the regular season as the third-ranked school in Class AAAA.
"Hopefully it will mean a lot to them," said former Mt. Zion right guard Canup, who now serves as an officer with the Atlanta Police Department.
"A lot of times these days young people don't have a lot of role models to look up to in certain situations. Hopefully it will be nice to see some people they don't know, that have been been through the same things they're going through, to see it can be done. Mt. Zion doesn't have a lot of tradition, so hopefully this will be the start of something."
Players such as Aull, Canup, Wilkerson and Huffstickler have already established themselves as Mt. Zion icons.
Now it's up to this year's team to create their own identity within the school's program. This club will never compare to the cast of characters that suited up in 1999, but there are a few similarities from that team with the current group.
"The leadership on defense is very similar to the leadership the defense had in 1999. Offensively, we're younger than we were in 1999. We had 18 seniors on that team. This is pretty much a surprise for us. We knew were going to be a good football team, but we've done better than anyone could've imagined," said Aull.
Kick off is slated for Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Marist High School.