The Mary G. Montgomery football team won a game last Friday night.

That’s news because the most recent on-the-field win, before Friday night, for the Vikings came Aug. 21, 2020. The Vikings followed with 22 consecutive losses on the field. The losing streak was officially 15 games because the Vikings were awarded a forfeit win in the second-to-last game of the 2020 season.

So, it’s understandable that the 33-19 win over Alma Bryant in Class 7A Region 1 play was a big deal.

But the real big deal has nothing to do with a single Friday night. The real big deal is what’s happening to the program under first-year head coach Zach Golson and his staff. Chances are solid that there will be plenty more Friday nights like the last one.

“We just want to keep trying to prepare the right way,” Golson said. “We got a tough little slate coming through. We got Baldwin County, who has played a tough schedule, and it’s (our) homecoming. We got to kind of deal with all the things that homecoming brings, try to handle those things the right way. We are getting better and excited about where we’re going.”

This is Golson’s first high school head coaching job since he spent three seasons running the program at Hooper Academy, the last coming in 2013. He’s a former quarterback under Bill Clark at Prattville High and played quarterback at Huntingdon College. He was the architect of some pretty good offenses at McGill-Toolen and Daphne and was part of the McGill-Toolen staff during three successive state championship game appearances from 2015-17.

He knew what he was stepping into at Mary G. Montgomery.

“One reason I was excited about the opportunity, was I had competed against MGM for eight years,” Golson said. “I knew the type of people that are out here. It’s a blue-collar place, where the kids play hard. There’s not been a year, even when they went 0-10, that they’re not playing hard. As a coach, you always feel like, man, if I just can get my hands on those kids, what can we do with them?”

The program does not have a winning season since back-to-back 9-2 seasons in 2001 and 2002. The Vikings are 0-7 in playoff games since beginning the program in 1947.

Golson said his first step when arriving was hiring a quality coaching staff. Former South Alabama players Alex Page (defensive coordinator) and Enrique Williams (strength and conditioning coordinator) joined his program.

“We were able to build a really good staff of men, guys you want to be around every day, guys who are fully bought into what we’re doing,” Golson said.

The next step was linking the middle school and youth football programs to the high school.

"One of the big things we talked about when we first got here, was we had success in our middle school programs and our youth leagues,” Golson said. “We just felt like if we could keep a group together, we can be successful here. We got good players, good kids. We did our Eighth Grade signing day. We did a lot of things with our eighth graders, really off the bat to try to keep that group together. We hired our middle school head coach, Jared Holloway, brought him up to the high school. He’s running the defense on freshmen and coaching d-line on varsity. “

He's seen that pay off quickly.

“That group’s 5-0 in freshman football,” Golson stated. “We’re already seeing that transition. That was kind of the deal. They haven’t won in freshmen, they haven’t won in JV. I’m like, how do you expect to win in varsity if you’re not winning those spots? Let’s start there, let’s make sure we are successful with our freshmen.”

The other piece of the equation was recruiting in the hallways of the high school. A year ago, at the end of the season, the Vikings had 42 players, according to Golson. This year, 185 players signed up for varsity football. That number settled in at just under 110 players and the freshman team has 65 players. Golson said his team generally dresses 125 players on game night.

Golson said his program was also fortunate that quarterback Jared Hollins and running back Keshun Johnson, who live close to the school, returned from other schools to play for the Vikings.

Mary G. Montgomery lost its first four games, but it wasn’t difficult to spot a difference. A year ago, the Vikings were outscored 370-93 in 10 games. The closest final margin was 11 points and some games included a running clock in the second half. This year, the Vikings' first three games were decided by a total of six points with two of the losses coming in overtime. One bounce here, one break there and the Vikings could have won any or all of those three games.

Through five games, according to Hall-Tech Sports, wide receiver James Bolton, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound junior leads the state with 574 receiving yards. He’s caught 32 passes and scored five touchdowns. Hollins, a 6-foot-3, 170-pound junior, is 83-of-112 for 1,175 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception. Hollins’ passing yards is fourth in the state, according to Hall-Tech Sports.

For Golson, a huge moment came last week when he was having a conversation with a visitor as his team prepared to play Alma Bryant.

“We were watching our kids practice, we were 0-4 and I said, ‘Man, this does not look like an 0-4 team,’” Golson outlined. “They were getting after each other. Tuesday is one of our big days of practice and it was one of our best days. The energy was great, guys were bouncing around and it was a lot of fun.”

The fun carried over to Friday night. Now, the challenge is to keep the momentum going.

“I’m a big faith guy,” Golson said. “I think we were brought here for a reason. I think God has a plan for all of us to prosper. I think at the end of the day, man, we’ve laid our foundation with the process and belief. If we always get back to that foundation – we’re here to give everything we’ve got, do the best that we can do every day, correct mistakes where we make mistakes, try not to make the same mistake twice, glorify Christ in everything that we do, good things are going to happen. That’s really what we’ve kind of gone back to each week, just focus on our process, correct mistakes and just keep chopping wood.”

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