By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
A special season for Southern Alamance’s football team suddenly has been overtaken by a controversy involving now-former coach Fritz Hessenthaler.
The Patriots don’t want that to be the defining mark on the season.
Hessenthaler was removed as coach on the day of Southern’s first game in the state playoffs last Friday. This stemmed from an apparent coaching incident in which there are various versions of what happened.
“We’ve been trying not to focus on it,” senior running back/linebacker Logan Foust said. “We’ve been trying to do our game, come together as a team, and put it behind us.”
Southern (10-1) is at home Friday night vs. Jacksonville (9-1) in the Class 3-A second round playoff game.
Players have been steadfast in endorsing Hessenthaler, who was in his sixth season as head coach. A public rally in support of the deposed coach was held Tuesday morning outside Alamance-Burlington School System offices in Burlington.
And there’s a game coming up.
“Staying out of that noise, that’s what I’ve been trying to do,” senior running back Jackson Parrish said. “Keep everybody focused on the main goal. There’s still so much more to go. We’ve got to really focus on the goals. Make sure we’re working toward that goal.”
But it’s difficult to look beyond the coaching situation.
“When we’ve got free time, we want to think about what we can do to help him out,” Foust said. “They’re totally wrong for doing it to us, and how they did it was horrible. It’s kind of messed up.”
The oddity of the situation has been troublesome for the Patriots even as many of them hope for an altered resolution.
“It’s definitely going to be different,” senior defensive back Myles Darroch said. “We can’t make this a big problem. We can fight for him. We can’t back down. It’s something to overcome.”
There’s no time for a letdown.
“We’re going all in or go home,” Foust said. We’ve been really pushing each other. We’ve got a strong bond going now, especially all this happening.”
So the Patriots are hoping to rally around the issue.
“A piece of the puzzle is definitely missing,” Foust said. “He has trained us since last year after we lost third round. We just have to go out there and prove to him that we’re going to do some good stuff.”
Bonds are tight on the team, players said.
“You’re going to take one of us away, you can’t take all of us,” Parrish said. “We’re still thinking of him. We’re playing for him. He’s still really making that impact.”
Hessenthaler pieced together the Central 3-A Conference champions. That’s not lost on the players.
“We definitely have a reason to keep going, just to make him proud,” Darroch said. “He has put so much effort in. As a team, he put as together. We can’t let that stop us from going far and meeting our goals.”
Parrish said Hessenthaler’s impact is on the team regardless if he’s on the sideline.
“The hay is already in the barn,” Parrish said. “We did the weight-lifting, We did the spring workouts, summer workouts. We went through the non-conference season, the conference season. We’ve already been through all of this. We’ve already done all this work.”
For acting coach Chris Miller, there has been plenty to sort through amid an anguished coaching staff and perturbed players. He has seen the unity on the team.
“It has been a great year,” Miller said. “We just hope it keeps going.”