December 17, 2003
Valdosta-- The message on the back of coach Rick Darlington's t-shirt says it all. 2003 truly has been a return to dominance for the Valdosta Wildcats.
"As a coach you don't sit there and think how great this is, you just want to win. And everything you do, everything you work on this week is to get a plan together so those young men can be successful. So if we're going to pinch ourselves, we'll pinch ourselves later, we're not going to pinch ourselves now," Darlington said.
Darlington joins Mike O'Brien as the only other coach to take the Wildcats to a state championship in his first year.
"I'd like to get my number one in my time here, but again it's not for me at all it's for these kids. As a coach there's always next year so I'm not concerned about it for me or the other coaches, it's for the kids because these seniors don't get a next year," Darlington added.
The Camden County Wildcats will be looking for number one as well, not only when it comes to state titles, but also the young man who wears the number 1 for Valdosta, senior quarterback Cedric Hatten.
"I've faced their defense like three times since I've been starting and they've got a pretty good defense. But like I told my teammates if we come out with a great offensive plan, I don't think they'll be able to stop it this week," Hatten said.
"He's a good player and he obviously makes us better but we showed the other night that we have some other players too. So I don't want to be characterized as just being a one man team," Darlington said.
And Hatten's supporting cast isn't just on the offensive side of the ball. The Valdosta defense deserves a lot of credit also. The Cats 'D' is giving up just nine points a game in the playoffs.
"We've been talking about it from the beginning, even in summer camp when we played over there at Twin Lakes. Just work hard. We came out and worked hard and focused and got out and did our thing," junior linebacker Roderick Johnson said.
The fact that Valdosta is even in the state championship game is a surprise in itself. After a 1 and 3 start the Wildcats have reeled off ten straight wins. An eleventh straight would mean the school's 24th state championship, and perhaps more importantly a return to dominance.
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