By Joshua Huff, sports editor
CENTER POINT — As the 2017 high school football season came to a close, a sense of resignation hung over a Center Point football team mired in the doldrums of dreadfulness.
The Eagles were fresh off a 1-9 season with their only victory coming against a one-win Parker team in the penultimate game of the season. This followed a three-year span in which the beleaguered program won just two games (2014-16).
Center Point also churned through three coaches in four years: Shawn Gregory went 1-19 in his short stint. He followed Bennie Hall, who concluded his final two seasons with a 2-18 record.
Since Center Point’s final winning season in 2013, where in which Hall went 9-2 (6-1), the Eagles weathered a four-year stretch where they went 3-37 with just two region wins.
So, when current head coach George Bates entered the picture, hope sprung, but the lingering winter of paltriness clung to the program like a damp southern chill. Fresh off a one-year stint at Woodlawn, the former University of West Alabama All-American defensive back arrived at Center Point in what was his third stop in three years faced with the task of guiding a group of young men unaccustomed to success on the field.
Not much was expected out of Center Point in Bates’ first season. The Eagles were returning to Class 5A, Region 5 after spending four seasons in Class 6A. The program had last played in Region 5 in 2011-10 — The Eagles went 16-7 in those years.
However, following an 0-2 start to the 2018 season, the Eagles went 5-1 over their next six games to secure their first playoff berth since 2013 — Center Point advanced into the second round before falling to Etowah, 14-24.
“It did not take long,” senior DeCarius Hawthorne said of when he noticed the culture change. “It took at least like two weeks for us to get together and play as a family.”
That success transitioned into a 2019 season which the Eagles opened the year 6-1. Behind a defense that allowed just 16 points per game and an offense stacked with playmakers, Center Point surpassed its 2018 win total with a win at Moody in October and defied the odds in its run through this postseason.
“(Bates) has a plan for all of us to be great,” Hawthorne said. “We grind different. We lift different. Overall, he just teaches us how to be a better player and a better team at the same time.”
In just two seasons, Bates has won more games than Center Point had won the four years prior to his arrival. For Bates, the branding of a new culture begins and ends with letting the players know that the coaching staff has their backs. The coaches preach family, growth and education, first and foremost.
“We let them know that we’re going to stick with them through the good, bad and different,” Bates said of how he and his coaching staff turned the program around. “To be a young man, you have to go through stuff like this. It’s tough. It’s tough to do what we do. We’re hard on them in the classroom and everything. I want them to be proud. They’ve done something that other classes have not been able to do. They were a laughing stock for a while. To do what they’ve done at this point, man, I’m proud of them.”
Center Point will lose a bulk of its offensive weaponry this offseason: Jayson Jones, Javon Davis, R.J. Orr, Rontrell Catlin, Devin Maghoumbou and Tyler Murphy will be all gone. Defensively, the Eagles relied on a front helmed by mostly upperclassmen: Anterrius Craig, Gerry Marshall, Hawthorne, Quinterrius Tanksley. All of which are seniors.
However, despite losing a sizable chunk of talent on both sides of the ball, the Eagles will enter this offseason with a once unfamiliar feeling: Hope.