If the ship had to go down, so be it. But there would be order.
Northern Nash coach Mickey Crouch proved that point last season. Crouch had to dismiss more than half-a-dozen kids who could have and would have helped the Knights. Some couldn’t maintain their grades, others were just too immature to be part of Crouch’s team.
So the Knights carried on with a significantly less-talented roster and finished 2-8. In its Week 7 game against Nash Central, a 35-21 loss, Northern Nash didn’t have enough players to field two 11-man units.
Crouch has been coaching football since 1970, but he never has had a year with as many discipline problems as 2011.
Some of the players begged the coaching staff to let a few of the dismissed players back on the team just for the sake of trying to win games, but their pleas were fruitless. The dismissed players could come back the next season, when (or if) they were ready to be play by the rules.
“As a coach, I think you have to teach kids that you have to be accountable,” Crouch said. “I don’t like dismissing kids. I don’t like doing that. I ain’t got but two rules: Be on time, and do what you’re supposed to do.”
Crouch chuckles at the simplicity of it.
“That’s all it is,” he said. “If you can’t do what you’re supposed to do, play baseball. You get three strikes there before you have to go home.”
Seniors Quay Mann and Marquez Farmer never considered quitting football, even when it wasn’t fun anymore. Mann and Farmer are two four-year starters and the Knights’ two captains. As the team crumbled a season ago, it bothered them to the core.
They hate losing. Hate it like the UNC Rams Club hates Mike Krzyzewski.
“It becomes a joke. The program becomes a joke, just being honest,” Mann said. “People didn’t even want to come to the games because they got it in their mind we’re going to lose, there’s no doubt about it.”
“Me, I’m just a winner,” Farmer said. “And if I’m on a team, I want my team to be winners.”
The football team became a running punchline at Northern Nash last season. For Mann, the low point came at Wilmington Laney. Mann said the Knights completely rolled over after that game became difficult. They lost, 42-0.
Now that some of the dismissed players are back, Mann sees what Crouch saw all along.
“Now that they were gone from (the team), you can see it actually was a good idea because some of the kids that got kicked off last year came back this year, and they’re leaders this year,” Mann said. “They’re leading just as well as the two captains. It really had a positive effect.”
Crouch doesn’t have any idea how Tarboro became a rival. Tarboro isn’t close like Nash Central or Rocky Mount High. There isn’t a history. He and Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock are friends.
For whatever reason, the past two games the teams have played – two narrow Tarboro victories – were brutally physical. Both were giant, helmeted rugby scrums separated into chapters of a few seconds.
And for seemingly no reason.
“I wish I could tell you something, or why” Crouch said. “But I have no idea.”
The game tonight means something to Northern Nash. Different classes, different conferences – it doesn’t matter to the Knights.
“Tarboro, they’re the three-time state champs, but the last two years, we’ve been in the game with them every year,” Farmer said. “I know they’re a 2-A and we’re a 3-A, but that really doesn’t mean anything. Football players are going to play football.”
One of those players, Tarboro fullback Travonne Marshall (affectionately known as “Dubi”), is a former Knight. He was part of a dominant defensive backfield with Mann and Farmer but moved to Tarboro’s district.
Farmer and Mann still love him as a brother, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to rough him up like a brother.
“Dubi’s like a brother to me,” Farmer said. “We always talk to each other, we’re always around each other; he’s just like my brother. But when we’re on the field? Strictly business.”
Last season, after a 2010 season in which it made the regional semifinals, Crouch thinks Northern Nash became complacent.
“My daddy told me, and I didn’t understand what he was saying for a long time, he said, ‘Son, success will ruin you faster than failure,’” Crouch said. “That’s what happened to us last year. We had that real good year, then I think last year we walked in thinking, ‘Here we are.’”
Crouch said this team is different. It’s fun to coach again. Excitement is around the program, and the team is full of players who want to work.
Farmer and Mann, the two who kept plugging in 2011, want to show tonight that Northern Nash belongs with the elite teams in the area once again.
Tarboro and Northern Nash have played every year since 2005. Tarboro has won every time. In the past five meetings, there have been more quarters played (20) than Northern Nash has scored points (14).
“To be honest – I know we already played two games – but this one right here, this is the one,” Mann said. “This is where we make our mark. This is where we make history. When was the last time Northern beat Tarboro?”
Mann lets the silence prove his point.
“Exactly. We have a chance to be part of history,” Mann said. “Ain’t no better way to start of a season. You can’t start it off any better.”
The two captains used to receive snickers when they said they played football at Northern Nash. They believe the Knights can win their conference and succeed in the playoffs. And they know tonight can help validate their beliefs. They want anyone who sees tonight’s game to know Northern Nash is back.
“I know we win this game, this will let every teammate we have know that we can do this,” Farmer said. “We can win football games. We have what it takes.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com.