RINGLING — It isn’t very easy to pick out in the crowded jumble that is the Ringling fieldhouse, but head coach Tracy Gandy knows exactly where to find it.
It’s a piece of paper, beginning to wither with age, taped to the bottom left corner of the green chalkboard that lines one wall of the office. On that paper is a photocopy of a newspaper brief written about the Blue Devils’ 37-14 loss to Wayne in last year’s regular season finale.
The brief includes phrases referring to Ringling as a “big joke” and the trip to watch the game as a “terrible waste of gas.”
Some may have found it funny. Gandy was not one of them.
“When those tough days come, during the summer or late at night during film study, I take a look at that,” Gandy said. “And I was ready to get back to work.”
That work has paid off in spades thus far in Ringling’s 2012 campaign. The Blue Devils, on the strength of a huge core of junior starters and a small but vital group of senior leaders, roll into the quarterfinals with a 10-1 record, a District A-4 championship and a fierce desire to prove their mettle against a Wayne squad that, once again, is viewed as the favorite.
This time, Gandy is counting on the physical maturation of his outstanding junior class, which constitutes a large number of the team’s starters. Small and inexperienced a year ago, the team was outmatched at the point of attack against its elite opponents.
“These kids were riding bikes to school instead of cars,” Gandy said. “We knew they were going to be great players, they just weren’t yet.
“Now, we know we’ve closed the gap some, but the question is have we closed it all the way?”
As for the players themselves, namely senior wide receiver and linebacker Jackson Dillon, there is no doubt that Friday’s game is not simply the next one on the schedule.
“Absolutely,” Dillon said when asked if revenge on the team’s mind. “We’ve thought about it.”
Junior quarterback Taner Richardson, who has blossomed this season with an extra year of experience after a shaky sophomore season, can see the differences not only in himself but in his classmates.
“It seemed like the game was so much faster last year,” Richardson said. “Things have slowed down out there.”
Offensive guard Tyler Grace agreed, and spoke about the progression from being dominated in games against Davis and Wayne to enforcing his own will on the field this season.
Page 2 of 2 - “Last year, I was just trying to survive some games,” Grace said. “But in the offseason, when you’re doing those workouts in the summer and maybe you don’t feel like that last rep, you think back on those things and it pushes you.”
And now, for Gandy and the Blue Devils, the combination of work, motivation and skills must come together, something he feels has happened during the past week.
The game on Friday has been a year in the making, and as the final week started, Gandy said he could see the ripeness of a year’s worth of fruition.
“The most somber day we’ve had here,” Gandy said of Monday’s practice. “And I’d have it no other way.”