With a win Friday in the third round of the playoffs at James Kenan, George Coltharp and the rest of the Red Devils' football team get their wish of playing during Thanksgiving, fulfilling a preseason goal they’ve discussed throughout the last three months.
“It’s what we always talk about, even during the season,” Coltharp said Tuesday from his film room. “Everything we do is in preparation for the playoffs. The awards and accolades are fine and dandy, but we want to be the ones everyone is talking about at the end. We want to be the last team playing football in the state.”
Anyone associated with the program knows the second-year coach is big on accountability and attention to detail. So much so, Coltharp's players slap an inspirational sign that bears a secret phrase every Friday night before exiting the fieldhouse to remind themselves just how important each individual's job is to the team. A la Notre Dame's 'Play like Champions Today' slogan, Red Springs' saying is centered around building tradition one step at a time.
Before Coltharp's arrival, the program had won just one playoff game since 2005. The Red Devils have won four combined the past two seasons.
"We kind of ask ourselves every week how we want to be remembered," Coltharp said. "If we win Friday, you start talking about Clyde Parrish's 12-1 deal back in the (1980s). These guys want to be here and that's why we're still playing. It's all up to them how far they want to go."
After school Tuesday, Red Springs (10-3) practiced light like it always does during the middle of game week — without pads and no hitting. The Red Devils split into personnel groups inside the gymnasium due to rain and went through 65 minutes of drills before the final whistle blew.
Tempo was stressed as well as holding on to the football. Quarterbacks Blake Greene and Cody Freeman got equal reps as interchangeable options in Coltharp's interpretation of the Air Raid. Receivers worked on timing routes, linemen focused on technique and players on defense worried about trying to read coordinator Ron Cook's mock-up of James Kenan's Wing-T.
Red Springs gave up a season-high 394 yards rushing to Pender last week, but after watching film, Coltharp says most of the defensive mistakes are easily correctable. The top-seeded Tigers (12-0) move the ball on the ground with rhythmic fluidity averaging nearly 300 yards per game. This isn't the first ground-and-pound attack the Red Devils have seen this season.
"There was really only a couple things here and there we need to work on," Coltharp said. "We need to do some very minor adjusting defensively. I think our guys understand what needs to be done and how well we'll need to play our assignment."
After last year's unsuccessful trip to the third round at Wallace-Rose Hill, Coltharp says his team is more mentally prepared for what they'll see Friday. The Red Devils turned the ball over seven times against the Bulldogs — four interceptions from Greene — and lost, 34-19.
The previous round, Red Springs ousted James Kenan from the postseason. The Tigers have since won 12 straight games.