Technically, Charles Henderson High won a football game last Friday. One win, nothing more, nothing less. A big win, for sure, but one win just the same.

Truthfully, though, the 19-16 win over top-ranked UMS Wright, certainly Class 5A royalty, was more than just a win.

“As a program, it just puts us on notice for the state of Alabama,” said Charles Henderson head coach Quinn Hambrite, whose team plays a Class 5A semifinal on Friday night at Faith Academy. “Nobody was talking about Charles Henderson week one. Nobody was talking about Charles Henderson week 10. Everybody is talking about Charles Henderson now. We knocked off the king at the top-of-the-mountain type deal. We’re a talented football team. Charles Henderson had talented football teams in the past. I just think this group is special.”

Anyone who thinks this Charles Henderson team – or, for that matter, this Charles Henderson program – will be content with that win needs to dig a little deeper into where they came from. Last season, Hambrite’s first as the head coach, the Trojans finished 2-8. The three years prior to that, they won a combined eight games. Until this season, the Trojans won just one playoff win since the 2013 team played in the Class 4A state championship game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

This team is different.

“I think they deserve everything that’s coming to them because they’ve worked for it,” said Hambrite, a former player at Huntingdon College. “I’ve said this before. It’s not microwave success. They have literally busted their tails. They have dealt with Coach Hambrite since January, so they deserve every bit of it. I’m not an easygoing guy. I am off the football field, but I’m a hard-nosed guy. I expect perfection. You can’t get there, but I expect close to it. I expect the same from myself. They have stepped up to the challenge and have done an exceptional job.”

Getting to this point probably doesn’t happen if last year didn’t happen. Hambrite, a former defensive coordinator at Carver-Montgomery, who was the head coach at Central Hayneville in 2017, saw quickly that his first year could be a struggle.

“I knew, and the coaching staff that I brought here knew that it was going to be tough in the first year because the senior class that I had about five or six guys that transferred already,” Hambrite said. “They left before I got here. I had a lot of ninth and 10th graders that had to play. A lot of them weren’t ready to be varsity starters.”

After the 2-8 season, the Trojans went to work in the weight room. Last season, Hambrite said, his program had “one, maybe two” players who could bench press 225 pounds or more. This season, every player on the offensive and defensive front can do that. Last season, he had no player with a squat of 400 pounds or more. This season, they have four players who have exceeded 500 pounds, including 6-foot, 215-pound running back Zach Coleman, who squats 550 pounds.

“They attacked the weight room,” said Hambrite.

Hambrite had a specific plan to continue building a new culture.

“You hold best ones accountable,” Hambrite said. “When you do that, all the others will fall into line. ‘If he’s holding the five-star of our team accountable, he’s on his tail the most. Then I better get my act together.’ That’s how I approached it. I went for the quote-unquote top dogs and challenged them.”

Hambrite said he could tell in the spring that this could be a special group. That belief grew in preseason practice and even more when the Trojans put together a long game-winning drive that started with 1:30 on the clock in a season-opening win over Mary G. Montgomery.

In the fourth week of the season, Charles Henderson dropped a 26-24 decision to Beauregard.

“I think we needed that humbling,” Hambrite said. “They had to be reminded how it feels early instead of going through it later on in the season or playoffs. They weren’t used to winning. Practicing when you’re winning is different. You know, you’re winning games, but you still have a lot of work to do.”

Charles Henderson hasn’t lost since. And they’ve shown weekly this is a talented team. Junior quarterback Parker Adams is not only the heartbeat of the team, but he has thrown for more than 2,300 yards and can beat teams with his legs. Coleman and seniors Stephon Mosely and Khalil Carson are playmakers. And then there’s 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior receiver Jywon Boyd, who had three touchdown catches against UMS-Wright.  

“We can’t do anything without Jywon Boyd,” Hambrite said. “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it time after time, and I’ll stand by it. He’s probably the best athlete in 5A. Anybody can quote me on it. It doesn’t matter. I really and truly believe that. He’s a kid who plays both ways, plays safety. There hasn’t been a team that can hold him down, in totality. He’s an all-out baller. He has a Houston offer, being his biggest offer so far.”

On defense, linebacker Damien Hart, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior, is the team’s leading tackler with more than 120 stops. It was Hart who came over the top to stuff UMS-Wright quarterback Sutton Snypes on a 4th-and-goal sneak from the 1-yard line with 1:53 left. Zion Grady is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound sophomore defensive end who is a four-star recruit with a host of offers, including Alabama and Auburn. He has 20 sacks and 30-plus tackles for loss this season. Senior Mario Davenport also makes a lot of plays.

“The thing, we’re still a young team. Maybe 90% of our team is coming back next year,” Hambrite said.

Next year can wait. The focus now is on a Faith Academy team that is playing in the semifinals for the second time in three seasons. Veteran coach Jack French is 47-15 in five seasons at Faith Academy and is 306-135-2 in a high school coaching career that has spanned nearly 40 years in Alabama and Mississippi.

“Faith is an effort team,” Hambrite said. “They have athletes across the board. All their athletes play both ways. That tells you a lot about the type of kids that they have. They’re hard-nosed, hard workers, they can play some football. We have to outwork them, out-effort them. They can win games off effort alone. It doesn’t matter what type of talent you have. If we don’t have maximum effort on Friday, we won’t win. They’ve outworked every opponent they’ve had.”

For a team built on hard work, that’s certainly possible.  

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