Editor's Note: Last night was another historic moment: The varsity football team is headed to its first-ever 4A state title game after its December 6th win (22-15) against Scotland High School. The Crusaders play on Saturday, December 14 against East Forsyth at 11 a.m. at UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan Stadium.
Win or lose it is, by all accounts, a history-making game.
Tonight, the varsity football team (11-2) will play in its first-ever Eastern Regional championship game. The Crusaders, the No. 4 seed in the 4A bracket, will face Scotland High School at 7:30 p.m. at Gibbons in front of what is expected to be a huge crowd.
Among the spectators will be Gibbons Alumni, including many former football players, who have waited 27 years to see their team play for a regional title and just maybe a spot in a state title game. To be sure, there will be lots of green and gold pride on display tonight.
Director of Athletics Todd Schuler said getting to this point is a testament to a vision that started in 1992 when Gibbons committed to reintroducing football to the athletics program. While it (football) began with modest ambitions, he said it has grown in the last 27 years from 18 players to 165 players in three teams.
From those humble beginnings, when losses outnumbered wins, a new era of success has emerged. In the last decade alone, for example, the Crusaders have made it to the quarterfinals three times. They also amassed several firsts, including an undefeated season and a conference title.
“These young men have set a standard for younger players in our program of what it takes in terms of preparation. They have a lot to be proud of – win or lose,” said Todd Schuler.
The teams that came before laid the foundation that we continue to build upon, Schuler said. Steven Wright, who has coached the Crusaders for the last nine years, agreed, adding that “we also have progressed culturally in the values - love, sacrifice, service, community, accountability, and joy - we promote.”
So, what is motivating the team this season given it has neither an undefeated season or conference title under its belt nor the best overall record? “A desire to play for each other and accomplish a goal bigger than self,” Wright noted. That they also are talented, remained healthy through a long season, and worked hard toward this goal of progressing through the playoffs “has led us to this point,” he added.
What also helped is what Wright described as a win the week approach. It is, he explained, “less about an opponent and more about how good we can be ...”
Schuler added: “We have a real commitment to excellence and to challenge our students to grow as leaders. So, in the past several years, we have played tougher and tougher teams. We lose some games, but those are growing opportunities … This team is the most prepared to compete at this level.”
Of course, another motivation is the possibility of a 4A title game appearance.
Today, game day, however, the objective is simple: Keep things as normal as possible for the team.
“Our guys ... see a finish line and want to take that next step to get there, Wright explained. What will he say to the team before the game? “We are capable of winning, we have prepared well, let’s go out there and play and have fun,” he said.
Schuler added: “These young men have set a standard for younger players in our program of what it takes in terms of preparation. They have a lot to be proud of – win or lose.”