A little over a week before No. 2 Alabama took on No. 4 Cincinnati in the 2021 Cotton Bowl Classic, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban was quoted as saying his guys were approaching their CFP contest against the Bearcats as a “business trip.”
It’s a saying that’s become popular in college football over the past few years with teams from Division I to JUCO using it to get motivated before games.
And while Halifax County’s football team won’t be playing in front of 50,000 people or on a national platform, the Comets have adopted the phrase heading into the 2022 season which is slated to kick off Friday night on the road against Person.
“We’re trying to get the momentum up so we can go hard in everything we do and we’re trying to get it in the guys’ head this is like a business, you have to take this like a job,” said senior quarterback Dakii Chandler. “You have to take this like a job so we have to work hard, play hard, go hard in everything we do.”
Senior Qualik Tucker agreed with his quarterback and added a bit about Halifax working on increasing its focus.
“Like [Dakii] was saying, we’ve got to come out here and get better every day, stop playing around at practice, focus more and just try to go all the way with it,” Tucker said.
Any business person worth his or her salt isn’t going to leave for a business trip without a few goals and Chandler, Tucker and the rest of the Comets aren’t any different.
While Halifax’s senior class, including Chandler and Tucker, have made the playoffs three of their four years, the Comets haven’t made it past the first round of the regionals in their tenures. According to both, it’s something Halifax is determined to change this season.
“Trying to make it deeper into the playoffs and get past the first round because we haven’t done that in a long time,” Chandler said. “So, we’re trying to get these guys to step up so we can make it past the first round and make a deep run in the playoffs.”
Tucker smiled and concurred, adding, “Exactly what he said.”
Lessons learned; lessons carried
Speaking of the playoffs, Halifax learned a valuable lesson when it squared off against Western Albemarle in the Region 4D quarterfinals last season. The Comets learned while they are a talented, quick team, they needed to be bigger and stronger, something head coach Rob Senseney has preached to his team in the offseason.
According to Chandler and Tucker, it’s advice Halifax has heeded this year in its quest to make a deeper postseason run.
“We’ve done a lot better,” Chandler said. “A whole bunch of younger guys have come in and are working with a lot of the older guys to get a little bit stronger so they can love the weight room. I wasn’t much of a weight room guy myself but I’ve understood you’ve got to get a little bit bigger so you can take the hits on the field.”
Tucker agreed with Chandler and added, “We started doing it in school last year so when we come in during the summer, it won’t be too hard and we’ll be in a lot better shape.”
Whether it’s running the ball up the middle on offense or delivering block-rocking hits on the defensive end, the Piedmont District is built on playing smash mouth football.
While last year’s 4-2 Piedmont record suggested the Comets were good at adapting to such physical play, the extra time Halifax has spent in the weight room in the offseason will help the team reach its goal of increased physicality this season.
Learning how to counter punch
Not long after the dust had settled on the Comets’ benefit scrimmage against Buckingham County last Friday, Senseney said his team needed to get better at delivering counterpunches after the Knights had forced a pair of late turnovers, one being the go-ahead scoop-and-score, to win the game.
With Halifax’s season opener against Person County knocking on the door, the Comets have been working hard on becoming the football version of Muhammad Ali or Sugar Ray Robinson.
“In practice, we’re trying to get our guys to go a little harder,” Chandler said. “We’re kind of soft right now so we just got to get more physical in practice so when the game comes, we’re ready for it.”
For Tucker, it’s about coaching up the second line and making sure they’re just as tough as the first.
“We’ve got to get our second team right too, they should be wanting play just like the first team and we’ve all got to be ready to play,” Tucker said.
Every coach in the Piedmont knows Chandler’s name. The senior shot-caller played a huge role in Halifax’s 7-3 finish, including 4-2 mark in district play, last season.
In the midst of all the hype and excitement, Chandler has found the perfect mix of humility and leadership.
“I think I’ll have a big impact; I’ve got a lot of people counting on me this year, everybody’s looking at me to take this team far,” he said. “But I’ve also got to look behind me because with those guys I have outside and the line I have, I should do well this year and the team should too.”
Chandler isn’t the only big name returning on Halifax’s roster as Tucker should be a marquee name at wide receiver.
Like Chandler, Tucker knows his role on the team is as a leader and is taking it very seriously.
“All of them look at me as a leader, they go off my energy, if I’m bull jiving in practice, they are going to bull jive,” he said. “They all look at me as a leader and the coaches do to. So, if I come out here and be intense and serious, then they’ll do the same thing. If I’m having fun, they’ll have fun. You have to find that balance between being serious and having fun.”
Senior running backs Amauriyen Jones and Jyquez Ferrell are also back for the Comets while junior back Josh Miller returns as well.
“We’ve got some pretty explosive backs,” Chandler said. “They’re tough so they can take those hits and when they get to the outside or in the open field, nobody is going to catch them.”
Tucker added, “It’s good because we can have fresh legs all the time, if one person tires, the next man can come in and take over. And all of us know what we have to do when we’re out there.”
Along with Tucker, seniors Trevor Barnes, Semaj Jeffreys and Kanyle Canada will anchor Halifax’s receiving corps this season while junior Josh Martin will provide depth as well when the Comets go to the air.
Of course, Halifax’s talent in the backfield and on the corners wouldn’t mean much without a solid offensive line. Fortunately for the Comets, they have a good chunk of their offensive front returning from last season.
Seniors Drew Duffey, Ahmad Moon and John Berneche will anchor the offensive line.
Having the experienced trio back protecting him has Chandler feeling confident heading into the season.
“I talk to my line before pass plays and tell them give me enough time so I can scout everything on the field and make the right read and they do a pretty good job of doing that,” Chandler said. “They protect me, they trust me and I trust them so we have a pretty good relationship.”
Tucker added, “They already know what to expect because they played with us last year. We’re doing the same thing we did last season pretty much so everybody knows what to do and where to go.”
Defensively, Tucker, Jeffreys and Ferrell will anchor Halifax on the corners at safety.
According to Tucker, Jeffreys and Ferrell’s skill keep him constantly pushing to keep up.
“They are some good cover guys, I try to compete with them,” Tucker said. “Especially [Semaj], he’s a ball hog so I try to get as many picks as he gets so if they do throw the ball, it’s going to be hard for them. We’ve got some good coverage guys. They’re quick and can get out in space.”
The linebacker corps will be led by seniors Javion Gooden and Anatarius Garrett while seniors Damien Wilborn and DJ Guthrie with anchor the defensive line.
Tucker believes the quartet’s lack of fear and power make them a dangerous combination for opposing offenses.
“They aren’t scared to hit, all of them are willing to come make the hit, they aren’t scared of the contact so we don’t have to worry about getting hit in the mouth all the time because they will hit you in the mouth first,” Tucker said.