Green Sea Floyds transitions from struggles to state final

As the clock ticked toward zero, Josh Slobodiak searched for someone to hug. He leapt in the air. He did a backflip on the sidelines.

Green Sea Floyds, that tiny school surrounded by farm fields, the one that couldn’t muster a single win four years ago and the team that had never reached the third round of the playoffs, those guys will play for a state championship.

“My freshman year was the year right after that year where we went 0-10,” the senior fullback said, minutes after the Trojans defeated Hemingway 47-7 to earn their first chance to play for a Class 1A state title. “It’s a journey, man. … It’s been a dream of ours.”

That goal didn’t seem realistic just a few years ago.

The team posted a 1-19 record over two seasons. Then came a 3-7 year followed by what seemed like the pinnacle, a 6-6 campaign in 2016 that saw the team’s first playoff win in more than a decade.

But the school cut ties with coach Tony Sullivan after that season and they brought in Donnie Kiefer, a North Carolina coach with more than 220 wins on his resume. When he arrived, Kiefer explained he intended for the Trojans to be the best 1A squad in the state.

“That’s what I told them when I walked in the door,” he said. “I said, ‘We’re coming here to win a state championship. … We’re not interested in mediocrity. We need for 6-6 to be a down year.’ That’s kind of what we’ve lived through.”

Kiefer had high hopes for his 2017 team, but that campaign was marred by the suspension of nine players and the dismissal of three starters after a fight during a game against Creek Bridge.

It took a year, but slowly Kiefer got his players — as well as the school district and the community — to see things his way. Green Sea upgraded the equipment in the weight room and replaced the team’s worn uniforms with new ones. They even painted their black helmets gold, the color of royalty.

“If we want our kids to buy in and train and perform like we want them to, then we need to give them a great facility,” Kiefer said.

The culmination of that culture shift was Friday, when the Trojans steamrolled the Tigers. Green Sea (9-3) scored four times before Hemingway even got on the board. They kept the Tigers out of the end zone in the second half and continued to build their lead with big plays. When Green Sean’s Jaquan Dixon scampered 60 yards for a late fourth quarter touchdown, the announcer began offering details about where to buy tickets for the title game against upper state champ Lamar.

“This is big, big, big, big — something that never happened,” said junior running back Anwain Graham. “Big on us and big on the community.”

For some players, particularly the seniors, Friday’s win was another sign of just how much things have changed at Green Sea.

Tysen Sorrell, the senior right tackle, was playing on the JV squad when the team endured that winless year.

“We were out there with them and we saw that it wasn’t pretty,” he said. “My class of 2018, coming through next, we all said we didn’t want that to be us.”

They’ve far surpassed that goal.

Sorrell suspected this squad could make a deep playoff run back in May when he saw how focused the players were during spring workouts.

“Going through spring, going through summer and busting tail, and seeing how many people came out here to buy into this program, to buy into what Coach Kiefer and his staff was preaching to us, that’s when I knew this would be a season to remember,” he said.

Despite all they’ve accomplished, the Trojans want more. They will get that chance at 5 p.m. Dec. 7 at Benedict College in Columbia.

“It’s been a sweet ride,” Kiefer said. “Now we just need to finish strong. We can’t be satisfied with getting there. We’ve got to go there to win it.”

Photo by Charles Perry/myhorrynews

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