During a 15-minute interview with five Gainesville High football players, the word “family” was used 47 times. No kidding.
The best part? None of the 47 mentions came across as forced. Often, players hear coaches talking so much about coming together as a family that interview responses seem, well, coached.
But GHS seniors Reed Armagost, Jason Fleming, Ahmad Ivey, Henry Montgomery and Krys Young talk about being as close as a family with a sparkle in their eyes and a glimmer of hope for the upcoming season. They say it like they actually mean it and believe it.
And they better. They’ll need to build an unbreakable bond more than ever.
“We don’t have the individual talent that we had last year,“ said second-year coach Mark Latsko, who led his alma mater to a 9–3 record in 2012. “We’re not going to send off six or seven Division I football players this year. We probably have three or four and then a couple of AA and D-II guys, so we need to play together better as a team.”
That dip in BCS-level talent has GHS players facing “haters” around town and even in the hallways at school.
“I hear it a lot,” said Fleming, who plays running back. “They say, ‘Oh, y’all are not going to make it to (the) state (finals). Y’all aren’t even going to make the playoffs.’ When I hear that, especially in the halls, it makes me mad. At the same time, I know I’ve got my team with me.
“They’re my family. My brothers. I know they’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs 100 percent of the time, no matter what.”
During a season-ending 27–7 loss at Springstead in the second round of the playoffs, the Hurricanes were without running back Tony James and receiver Dontarian Evans due to injuries. Latsko said they were “playing our best football of the season” at the tail end of a seven-game winning streak before the injuries took the wind out of the Hurricanes’ attack.
Armagost, who’s switching from tight end to left tackle to shore up the offensive line, said this year’s tight-knit group shouldn’t suffer the same fate as the 2013 squad should the injury bug bite again.
“We’re going to be forced to come together even more as a family and work together and play together where we’re not relying on just one or two people,” Armagost said. “Because if one of those guys go down, then we would be stuck.
“People think we don’t have the talent to make it back to the state finals like we did two years ago, but I definitely think we can.”
Ivey, who’ll double at cornerback and receiver, kept the theme going with his reply to how this team is different than last year’s.
“Together. Family,” Ivey said. “We have to be together the whole game. No quarters off. No plays off. We’ve got to play together every play for all four quarters.”
One trait of a truly family-like team is when players hang out off the field. The coaching staff holds workouts Monday through Thursday throughout the summer, but several players have been showing up on their own – with no coaches there – on Saturdays. They run “one-on-ones” and other drills to improve skills while also improving chemistry.
“We play for each other more than anybody else,” said Montgomery, a dynamic free safety. “If one man goes down, we’ve got to be there to help him up.”
They also play video games like Madden NFL and Call of Duty. One day during the FIFA World Cup, they even played a pick-up soccer game, so it’s not only about football.
All of it adds up to a stronger, more cohesive team. Latsko said “there was a little bit of selfishness. It was kind of about ‘me’ to a few players” last season. That’s why this team can achieve better results, regardless of individual talent.
“There is no weak link in one chain,” said Young, a cornerback who makes up one of the top secondaries in the state along with Montgomery and Ivey. “If there is any weak links, the chain will break. There’s no breaking us.
“We’re one chain that will be stronger than (last season).”
One chain. One Family.