For the fifth year in a row, the Thompson High football team will conclude the season in the Class 7A state championship game. It’s the comforting feeling of reaching heights that this program has become almost a foregone expectation.

This one, though, was different. This one came with back-to-back lopsided losses to begin the season. This came with some offensive struggles and backward steps. This one came with doubts and questions.

This one, in some ways, may have been the best coaching job that Mark Freeman and his coaching staff have done since he arrived in Alabaster in 2015 to turn around a struggling program.

“It’s been one of those very odd, peculiar years,” Freeman said. “It started off with kids having so much pressure and really didn’t know how to handle it. None of the skill guys had ever started a game for us, [except for] Zach [Sims] started a couple when we lost our quarterback. You go through that, go through the pressure, and they don’t know how to handle it. You got to know who you are. We’re just a different team, so we had to coach like we’ve never coached in our life. We had to create another level of success. I think we finally have got it. We’re not as good as we’ve been in the past, but we need to be as good as we can be. That’s what coaching is. I tell our guys, now, I’m proud of them.”

Now, we reach the bottom line. One more win, and the Warriors get a ring for the fourth consecutive season. The latest championship game appearance comes tonight at 7 p.m. when the Warriors play Auburn High at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“I believe every coach on my staff would say, at this point, it’s become the most personally gratifying year we’ve had,” Freeman said. “It’s because of the way we had to change some of our philosophy. We had to change up some of the things that in the past we were successful at and we will be again one day. Coaching these kids, teaching them to believe in themselves and basically to just understand that they have their own identity. They shouldn’t compare, nor let other people compare them to anybody previous. I think it just had to run its course. They had to see some success. It’s one of those years that we had to run the course and make sure we had to do what we needed to do along the way, to get ourselves in position.”

Thompson began the season with out-of-state losses to talented teams from Georgia (Buford) and Tennessee (Lipscomb Academy). The Warriors won seven games in succession before a regular-season ending 9-0 region loss to Hoover. In the playoffs, the Warriors beat Huntsville and Vestavia Hills before whipping Hoover, 40-10, in the rematch.

During the late part of the schedule, Thompson started eighth-grader Trent Seaborn at quarterback.  

On defense, defensive lineman Peter Woods, a five-star Clemson commitment, is finally concluding his high school career.

“Peter, we called him up as a 8th grader, so he’s been here with us forever,” Freeman said. “We are going to miss him on the field, but we’re going to miss Peter Woods, as a person, more. He is such a great person. Many nights when I leave the building, or we’re coming out of the staff meeting at 7:30, he’ll sometimes be in our facility working with our young linemen. You just don’t grow Peter Woods on a tree somewhere.”

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