When Rocky Mount Academy’s current senior football players were sophomores, they would have been happy if they were making semi-regular trips to the end zone by the end of high school.
Their football careers came to a close with significantly more grandeur.
The seniors’ final act as Rocky Mount Academy football players came at Rocky Mount City Hall, where they shook hands with Mayor David Combs and were recognized by the City Council with a unanimous resolution honoring their 2013 NCISAA eight-man football championship.
“It’s an honor. I never would have expected this year two years ago,” senior linebacker Kasey Royster said.
Two seasons ago, Rocky Mount Academy went winless. The Eagles scored 36 points the entire season, allowed opponents to average 55 points per game and had a running clock – football’s version of a mercy rule – in every game.
In November, 24 months after their winless season ended, the Eagles walked off the field at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex with a championship trophy.
“I remember walking off the field after we won it and Kasey told me, ‘When you came, we were just hoping to score some,’” said second-year Rocky Mount Academy coach B.W. Holt, who flew into North Carolina from Florida late last week.
Holt said he had to be present for the ceremony.
“I couldn’t miss this,” Holt said. “I wouldn’t have missed this. No way. No sir.”
When Holt arrived in the summer of 2012, he implemented the same systems that proved successful at Rocky Mount High, where he coached previously.
Rocky Mount Academy wasn’t anybody’s punching bag in 2012. A competitive team lost only one starter, leading the returning players to believe a memorable year was brewing in 2013.
“Being with these guys for so long, being with the guys that came up as juniors, sophomores, I knew we were going to have a chance to do something special,” senior center Nick Place said. “We knew it was going to take a lot of hard work.”
Holt said he was grateful for the chance that Rocky Mount Academy gave him. When he saw tape of the team he would inherit, he didn’t see a hopeless bunch, but rather a team in need of inspiration.
After former player Colt Brake was seriously injured during a game in 2010 – the current seniors’ freshman year – Holt said the program went off kilter. He believed he was the right man to change it.
“Since (Brake) got hurt, the program really went down,” Holt said. “I don’t think they worked hard. When they offered me the opportunity, some people said, ‘Hey, they’re not gonna do what you ask.’ I said, ‘If I come, they’re going to do it. If not, they won’t be there.’”
Holt said his team improved drastically, with regular weight lifting being a key to the turnaround.
He thanked his team of assistants for “taking good care of the old man,” and said the players deserved nights like Monday for their hard work.
For the players who went through it all, it still seemed surreal that their careers ended with a show of respect from the city’s highest-ranking officials.
“This is a huge deal for our community and our school,” Royster said. “It’s a big step in our football program.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com