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Lessons from '05 baseball final transfer to football
Dec 04, 2006 12:00 am
Today's BlueCross Bowl is the first appearance by Friendship Christian in a TSSAA football state championship game.
But the Commander baseball team did play for the state title in that sport in 2005, losing to University School of Jackson. Several football coaches and players were involved in that game, including head coach John McNeal and defensive coordinator Duane Lowe.
Can the experiences gained in a title game in one sport be transferred to another?
"Anytime you have any kind of experience like that, the kind of excitement of building for that one big game, it has to help," said McNeal, whose 14-0 Commanders face Jackson Christian (11-3) at 3:30 p.m. today at Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro. "And a lot of those guys were involved in that game."
Friendship will try to keep the state championship trophy within Region 4-1A after Trousdale County ran the table last year. The Commanders gave the Yellow Jackets two of their closest games of the season, including a four-point decision in the quarterfinals, which was FCS' last loss 54 weeks ago.
"These kids have played in the playoffs every year," said McNeal, whose team is on a seven-year playoff run. "One of the things...was last year at Trousdale. They were the best last year. They proved it and we played them down to the wire.
"It opened (our players') eyes going into this season."
This week is bringing the most statewide attention bestowed upon Friendship in the school's 30-plus-year history. It began with the Commanders being ranked No. 1 most of the season. Linebacker Wade Mitchell was a finalist for Mr. Football and the team has been featured on TV, newspapers and websites all week.
McNeal said the attention hasn't been a distraction for the team and that he has thrived on it.
"For most of the team, it's been routine for the players," McNeal said late Wednesday after guesting on a radio talk show. "I've loved it. I'd hate for anyone to say they hated it, because it's what it's all about. It's something I've enjoyed.
"We're preparing as hard as we can... Our practices have been what they've always been."
While McNeal has done everything possible to prepare for the Eagles, right down to practicing on the synthetic surfaces at Vanderbilt's practice field and Montgomery Bell Academy to simulate the new turf at MTSU, he hasn't been able to simulate the weather. All of the teams playing this weekend have practiced in warm weather during the week. But temperatures are forecast to plummet to anywhere between the mid-40s and mid-30s, depending on your favorite weatherman.
McNeal favors playing in the cold to sitting in it.
"I could be up there (in the bleachers) watching it and being cold," said McNeal, whose Commanders opened their season 15 weeks ago on a warm, muggy August evening. "It's a lot better situation being on the field playing in the cold than sitting up there cold watching somebody else do it."
The Commanders will leave school following a 9:30 a.m. pep rally today. A spirit tunnel will form for the team to walk through. Fans have routinely formed spirit tunnels on the field for the players to run through entering the field. But spectators won't be allowed on the field at MTSU.
Tickets are $10 each and will be available at FCS until 9:30 a.m. Part of the proceeds from sales at Friendship will remain with the school. Tickets will also be available at the gate.
Classes will be dismissed at 11:30 a.m. today. The team is scheduled to depart for Murfreesboro at noon.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at email@example.com.