Wednesday, November 28, 2012
This time last year Cross football coach Shaun Wright stood along the sidelines at Charlie Johnson Field on the campus of Benedict College, he watched his friend and mentor Art Craig win his first football state championship.
It was easy to see Wright would have given his eyeteeth to have been in Craig’s shoes along that sideline. He knew his teams always had the potential to reach this lofty plateau but each season they would always fall short.
No Cross team had ever advanced to the state championship game and had appeared in just three Lower State finals in the school’s history.
When Wright arrived in Cross in 2009, taking over both the athletic director and head football coaching job, he wanted to change the perception of the Trojan football program as title pretenders.
“I don’t think any coach gets into this business just to get a check and win a couple of games,” he said. “I knew if I could attract good coaches here then we could win. We just feel fortunate to be able to do it in year four.
“That just lets you know that Cross always had this type of talent.”
Wright brought in the coaches he’d need to bring a winning attitude to the football program and set about transforming both the team and community’s attitude. The results were gradual.
Wright is 32-17 during his four years at Cross, posting an 8-4 record in his first season in 2009, 5-6 in 2010, 8-4 in 2011, and 11-3 in 2012. None of Wright’s teams advanced farther than the second round. Until this year.
“A lot of people don’t know this but we were 9-0 on the road this year,” Wright said. “It was just fitting to be chosen the away team at the state championship game.”
The Trojans’ road to the state title game put them on the road following their first round win over Scott’s Branch. A state championship wasn’t even part of his team’s plans this season so just making it to the Class A, Div. II state title game exceeded Wright’s expectations.
“We didn’t talk about winning a state title,” he said, “We just wanted to get to Lower State.”
The Trojans advanced to meet McCormick in the state championship game after downing arch nemesis Lake View 41-40 in the Lower State finals. Cross came into the state championship game prepared.
“We really studied their offensive front and just didn't see the aggressiveness that we had faced,” he said. “We thought they were better in the back seven and that is not a good formula for beating us this year. They lined up exactly how we thought they would and we executed just like we did in practice.”
The Chiefs had no answer for the Trojan running game as running backs Devontae Shepherd and Dionte Evans scored three touchdowns each in leading Cross to its first state football championship in school history.
“I don’t think they were used to defending the option, as nobody on their schedule ran what we ran,” Wright said. “This gave us the chance to keep pressure on their defense. They really didn’t have many adjustments and that made our job a little easier.”
Wright knew the 2012 edition of the Trojans was special.
“The difference this year was the commitment to each other. They love to play for each other and not just with each other.”
With a championship under their belts and state title rings on order, the Trojans enter 2013 as defending Class A, Div. II state champs. Defending state championships are tough and Wright and his staff will waste no time preparing for next year.
“We have our work cut out for us, but we won’t make any excuses,” he said. “We have to replace three starters up front, both inside linebackers and find a quarterback. We will take some time off, enjoy this and get back to work come December.”