This year has been anything but the traditionally Tarboro football season.
The defeats – the Vikings lost two nonconference games and a home game for the first time in six years.
The injuries – Tarboro is down to its third-string quarterback and has lost a small handful of starters.
The off-the-field issues – Coach Jeff Craddock has had to deal with more than usual, possibly causing the Vikings’ loss to Washington.
Still, things roll on as usual in Tarboro, because although goals like going undefeated – which has happened just once in Vikings’ history – can’t be accomplished, the main three are still there: Win the county, win the conference, win the state.
“Everything else is just subplots,” Craddock said. “Those are the Big 3.”
And all three are still in the Vikings’ hands.
Beginning last week and continuing at 7:30 tonight against Rocky Mount Prep at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex, Tarboro (5-2, 1-0 Two Rivers) starts its true season.
“We are very well aware of that,” senior linebacker Saiid Murphy said. “From here, we just have to get better. It’s all steam ahead.”
After five straight NCHSAA state championship appearances and three titles during that time, the results have proven that the routine is working. So, it stays the same.
The weight room clangs and echoes current hits, as the Vikings lift during the season – something not all teams do.
The film study session continues as players yell out their assignments in a dark room up to five days a week. Practices continue to be light as Craddock hopes to keep his team fresh for the important games to come.
Tarboro plays North Edgecombe at the end of the season, potentially with the county and conference championships on the line. Once the playoffs begin, all the wins and losses of the regular season are meaningless.
“When you get there nobody cares if you won a conference championship,” Craddock said. “... You start over again. It’s important to always remember that and tell the guys. Even myself as a coach, I need to remember that at times.”
Craddock was coach three years ago when the Vikings went undefeated. But since then, Tarboro has felt the extremes of the state championship.
Last year, Tarboro was undefeated before a four-point state championship loss.
“When you lose that last game, you forget about the 14 wins,” Craddock said. “All you think about is that one loss.”
The year before, Tarboro lost twice during the regular season only to walk off the field after the state championship game as a winner.
“Those losses just kind of evaporate quickly,” Craddock said.
So things go on as usual at Tarboro, even if the coaching staff jokes that the Vikings are “building depth” because of all the injuries.
It goes on because there are players who have been through the playoffs and understand the season is not finished. In fact, it’s just beginning.
“We’ve gone through some hardship, but we’re still in position to accomplish them,” senior defensive back Jerrod Bennett said of the team’s goals. “... It’s full steam ahead with everything we have to accomplish those goals.”
Murphy, who has played varsity each of the past four seasons, has been through the tough times, though there are so few teammates around him that have done the same this year.
Murphy remembers his first game as the team’s starting center two years ago. It was a season-opening loss to Nash Central.
He figured then that Tarboro would win simply because it was Tarboro. He learned his sophomore year that wasn’t the case.
“It was a shocker,” Murphy said of Tarboro’s loss to Nash Central two years ago. “Sometimes you need those losses. ... Sometimes those heartbreaking losses have a way of putting your eyes on the prize again.”
Tarboro’s young roster has received that wake-up call – twice now.
Murphy hopes, and expects, that his youthful teammates will receive the message the same way he did.
“For the younger players, it (was) an eye-opener for them,” Murphy said. “Nobody is going to lay down for us because we’re Tarboro. They’ve stepped up, but we just have to keep moving from here.”
Every year, Tarboro finds a way to refocus. Whether it is because of the routine or the leadership, it doesn’t really matter. All that matters to the Vikings and Murphy is that something always changes as the temperature drops.
“It’s a totally different level of play in the playoffs for Tarboro,” he said. “Playoff time is like Tarboro time. We just transform. I just love it.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org