Justin Sanderson’s inbox has been taking inspirational quotes and Bible verses from fans and friends for the past two months. Roswell’s first-year head coach says he’s read them all.
The good news is that fans are solidly behind him. The bad news is that traditional powerhouse Roswell is 0-9 for the first time in a proud football history that dates to 1950.
‘’If you were walking the hallways today or came to practice this week, you’d never know that we’re winless,’’ said Sanderson, a Roswell assistant from 2003 until getting the promotion this year. “The support is so strong and so ingrained in everybody. We’ve physically been outmatched in a couple of games for the first time in a while talent-wise, but the kids keep fighting. There’s no division, no dissention.’’
On a rainy Friday night, Roswell was overmatched again, losing to playoff-bound West Forsyth 35-14. Other times, it’s been a case of snake bite.
The Hornets have led in the fourth quarter of four losses, twice giving up the winning points in the final minute. They’re playing without five injured starters. They graduated 10 college signees off the 2010 region championship team.
But fan support remains near full-strength. Per tradition, the seniors wear camouflage to home games, and there were dozens of them Friday.
At the moment of kickoff, the students have a tradition called the flour toss. Borrowing from NBA star LeBron James, students throw handfuls of flour in the air, creating a white cloud of excitement that signals the start of another festive Friday night.
On this night, the Roswell Rowdies called it off because of the threat of rain.
“It was pouring,” said senior Hannah Dalby. ”When it’s wet, it turns to paste’’
Dalby was with a group of seniors wearing the camos. She noted that Bass Pro Shop loves Roswell seniors. Senior Cooper Surrett said it’s not just about looking cool.
‘’The team, we’re friends will all the players,’’ Surrett said. “We come out no matter what, not just to win. Teachers tell us they’ve worked at other schools, but this is the most school spirit they’ve ever seen.’’
Claire Bartlett, the mother of Roswell senior safety Joe Bartlett, said Roswell is just a city that loves its football and its school.
“Roswell is a very community-oriented city,’’ Bartlett said. “We all support each other. You don’t abandon ship in down times. You pull together even closer. This is one of those times when we’re banding together.’’
Another Roswell tradition is to promote its coaches from within and stick with him. Sanderson is Roswell’s 10th head coach. He’s been a part of two region champions and a state champion at Roswell.
Inspirational to the end, Sanderson is confident the downturn is temporary. After all, this is Roswell.
‘’If it can happen to us, it can happen to anybody,’’ Sanderson said. “My job is to keep my head up and keep them together. As much as it stinks, it is what it is, and everybody understands this is a teachable moment for us. We talk a lot about character. You cannot say effort is an issue. These kids have fought for 48 minutes every Friday night and left it all on the field.’’