Players on the Tate High football team turned heads when attending a recent youth football game in Cantonment.
Admiration and adulation have been part of the Aggies’ turnaround season.
“The guys had their Tate gear on. They are just proud to where it now,” Tate first-year coach Ronnie Douglas said. “That is important. Tate has always had a lot of pride. To go around and know they can show the pride in the community, that means a lot.”
More significance awaits Friday when Tate plays its first playoff game in five years when traveling to face Tallahassee Lincoln in the Region 1-7A quarterfinal. The game will be played at Tallahassee Chiles High, located north of Interstate 10 off Thomasville Road.
The Aggies (8-2) produced their best record in 10 years. Quite a leap from a 1-18 record the past two years.
“Usually at this time, these kids have moved on to basketball or they are talking about next year,” Douglas said. “It is a little bit different around here to have this opportunity.”
Lincoln (6-4) has been one of the state’s premier programs for more than a decade.
The Trojans have won three state titles since 1999 and have played in five state finals.
Tate has come from oblivion this season. The Aggies, who have less than 50 players on the varsity roster, pulled off several upset victories, then won a shootout rematch with Crestview to secure a playoff spot. Douglas believes his team’s experience playing Niceville in the regular season and during the shootout for the district title will be a benefit.
“There are not many teams in the state as good as them,” Douglas said. “We stayed with them and held our own. Lincoln is the same caliber as Niceville.
“Our kids, they have had some success. I think that is what they think about. They don’t look over there and see that team as being giants.”
Among the differences in a turnaround season is having the extra practice time.
Douglas said many of the junior varsity players have worked in drills this week.
“They get to experience what it’s like to be like with varsity, so you almost get an extra week of spring practice, which is huge when trying to build a program.”
Tate is planning to take a couple busloads of supporters, including the band, to cheer the team in Tallahassee.
“They are excited. There is an excitement in the air here,” Douglas said. “And the people I see in the community. they are excited about what is going on here.”