The Garner Magnet High football team is going to have a special season this year.
This is no prediction of greatness — although I think this Trojans club is the best in a while — but regardless of wins and losses the season will be special.
Just how special unfolded Friday night as Garner pounded a pretty good Cleveland club 56-19. The Trojans did so despite having two touchdowns called back by blocking penalties and two potential big-yardage touchdown passes dropped.
Overall it was a most impressive effort in a most impressive setting.
The new school, which will become South Garner after Garner Magnet occupies it for a couple of years, is spectacular. The stadium also is very different from Trojan Stadium. About the only thing the same is the field dimensions.
The old stadium exemplified Garner high school football: basic, strong, dependable. There was nothing fancy about it. There were lots of seats, including the visitors’ bleachers, which came second-hand to Trojan Stadium from Raleigh’s old Devereux Meadow baseball stadium.
The old stadium promoted watching the game, not standing on the concourse. You were there to see the game. The concession stand was known for the basics: hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn. The bathrooms were there for emergency use only.
Not so the new digs.
Some of the best viewing in the South Garner stadium is from the concourse. The concession stands have six entrees. The bathrooms are newly painted and all the stalls still have doors. From the home stands you get a picturesque view of the three TV towers.
But seating is at a premium. As the crowds increase as more people discover how special this team is, concourse viewing will be a must to watch the game. Poor visitors, though. It doesn’t take much of a visiting crowd to fill the available seats.
Come early. The kickoffs are at 7 and this Garner team can score in a hurry. The dozens of people who came expecting a 7:30 start missed four touchdowns, three by the Trojans.
But some things don’t change. Billy Stuart and crew are back for a 17th year dragging the first down chains. Head coach Thurman Leach still prowls the sidelines although long-time head coach Nelson Smith and assistant Eddie Gray don’t.
Standing with Gray on the concourse is like visiting royalty. It seemed as if almost everyone shot him a thumbs up, pointed an index finger, waved or moved through the crowd for a brief visit.
Smith seemed to be travelling incognito, sporting a mountain man beard.
Asked if he missed coaching football, Smith, the newly retired athletic director, said he had been catching croackers “this big” in Swanquarter. He stayed at a $65 a night motel that had great air conditioning.
Urged by Gray to ask Smith what day of the week it was, I did. Smith replied, “Saturday. Every day is Saturday when you’re retired.”
But he stood in the end zone watching the game as only a head coach can. A key component in the Trojan legacy hasn’t moved too far away.
He saw Garner get called for holding a lot. That’s OK. It happens when you score a lot and make big plays. He saw passes dropped that probably will be caught in key situations later this season.
And Smith saw that the Trojans will hit you. They will run the trap, the isolation and an assortment of sweeps that batter opponents and get playmakers in space to make plays.
And he saw that the deep passing game will be an integral part of the offense. Braxton Brokenborough completed 7 of 9 passes for two scores. Few Trojan offenses in recent years have had the potential to throw deep so often and with such success.
And the Garner defense can be scary good.
Cleveland’s offense, with quick reads and an elaborate passing game, is the type that traditionally gives Garner teams fits. The Trojans’ usual counter is great pressure on the quarterback, or as Gray, then the defensive coordinator, once said, “Forget the fancy stuff. Get after ‘em.”
Garner got after ‘em pretty good on Friday. Cleveland quarterback Caiden Norman was hurried 15 times and battered much of the game.
None of which means that the club will have a championship season or even that it will win at Middle Creek this Friday.
But so far, the team, under the steady hand of Leach, seems to be handling the chaos of this special season well. The team has no locker room. It is away from its familiar home. There are new things and new procedures everywhere the team turns.
But for 48 minutes on Friday nights there will be a sense of normalcy. They may play in a fancy new stadium, but this is a team that seems to be rooted very deeply in the past. Brotherhood. Sacrifice. Pride. Commitment. Dedication. Aggressiveness. And very importantly, team before self.
This is a year that the players and coaches will remember. This is something special.
Editor’s Note: Tim Stevens is a lifelong Garner resident and the only reporter to be named to the National High School Sports Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.