So now it’s put-up or shut-up time.
Not for the Lee County Yellow Jackets or the Southern Lee Cavaliers.
Heading into any prep football season, it is hard to hide the excitement about what the year might have in store.
And 2009 was no different — unless the difference came in that we may have been even more anxious about the approaching year on the gridiron.
But after Southern Lee’s disheartening third quarter performance in its season-opening loss and Lee County’s inability to move the ball in the friendly confines on Paul B. Gay Stadium, what are fans of the county’s two programs supposed to think?
Well, for starters, they can think what they should’ve known all along.
This thing is going to take some time.
Through the offseason workouts, the early-season practices and the scrimmages, the fervor for what two proven coaches are going to bring to the respective programs built into a frenzy. Is the local newspaper and its preseason coverage partially at fault for that? Maybe that’s a fair question, but there’s no doubt that before the ball was kicked into the muggy air Friday night, there was a sense around town that the Yellow Jackets and Cavaliers were back on track.
The morning after, though, is probably making some fans rethink things.
And honestly, they should. This is going to be a work in progress, for both Lee County and Southern Lee, and there’s nothing wrong with being reminded of that right from the start. It’s unfair to both Burton Cates and Eric Puryear to believe that eight-win seasons and conference titles are right around the corner just because they are stalking the sidelines.
There’s no reason to paint the 2009 season with broad strokes of doom and gloom just one game into the schedule. That’s not fair either. There’s no telling how things are going to play out from here, no matter how daunting the teams’ schedules appear.
But at this point, let’s look for incremental improvement, let’s see if the players’ effort remains the same from the opening kickoff to the final horn, let’s see if the gameplans are well-designed and in place and let’s see if the adjustments made on the fly show real intuitiveness.
And let’s not forget that neither coach promised a state championship this year. But what they did guarantee is that the players will work hard, that they will get better, will be solid representatives for their schools and that this season should serve as the foundation for future success.
This season is not lost, not by any stretch. But the real victory will come if the Jackets and Cavaliers heed words like the ones spoken by Cates before the season began.
“Something we always tell our seniors, and we did this when we sat down with them and talked to them in the spring, is to leave the program better than when you came into it,” Cates said.
So remember, Richmond County and Independence weren’t built in a day.
And for that matter, neither was Cates’ Eastern Randolph, or even South Johnston, a two-time defending conference champion, or Western Harnett, a state playoff team a year ago. The Trojans and Eagles simply are two programs that are further along than the Jackets and Cavaliers right now.
So just wait.