Residents of Gainesville, clear your schedules. It’s going to be a night to remember for all Leopards football fans, past and present, Friday.
The 2013 Leopards team will try to improve to 7-0 when it hosts Sanger at 7:30 p.m., while the squad that preceded them 10 years before will return to town to celebrate the ultimate feat: a Class 3A State Championship.
Members of that 2003 title team, including head coach Jeff Cordell and players Terrius Purvey, Nick Daulong, Jordan Turbeville, Colt Eberheart, Michael Miller and others will come together for the 10-year reunion of becoming the top team in the state.
That group will first reunite at a pregame meal, hosted by the GHS Booster Club at the GHS cafeteria.
“There were a lot of strong emotions for me when I found out the team was getting back together,” Purvey, who ran for more than 1,900 yards and 20 touchdowns during that championship run, said. “These are the people I grew up with playing sports with. I’ve known them my whole life and it’s going to be nice to have us all together again.”
Following the dinner, the championship group will watch the next generation of Gainesville football when the Leopards take on the Indians at Leopards Stadium. A special section of the stands will be roped off for members of that team and a special ceremony honoring the group will take place at halftime. At the conclusion of the game, the locker room will be open to returning players.
For Daulong, a two-way starter for the Leopards as an offensive tackle and defensive end, the reunion is a chance to look back on what he called “the culmination of our childhoods.”
“Going back to the days of us playing against one another at the youth center in town, we always felt like we were competing against ourselves the most,” Daulong said. “If I saw Terrius or Darcel [McBath] make a big play, I’d think to myself that it was my turn to make a play as well.”
That Gainesville squad, which held all but three teams to under ten points, was tested by top competition throughout its playoff run. Along the way, Gainesville overcame matchups against future NFL quarterbacks Case Keenum, Stephen McGee and Caleb Hanie and wide receiver Jordan Shipley.
After trailing 21-14 at halftime of the state title game, Gainesville held its opponent Burnett to just three second half points en route to a 35-24 win to clinch the state title.
Throughout that run, Purvey took notice of the team’s ability to do just that: play its best football in the second half.
“We were a second half team, and that’s a credit to coach Cordell and the rest of the coaching staff,” Purvey said. “Those guys were always able to put their minds together at halftime and generate a plan that put us in the best position to win.”
A decade has now passed since the Leopards hoisted the championship trophy, but Daulong said the mindset that helped the team win then lives on with the GHS players.
“We have guys like Dillon Buck, who’s now a tank commander, and Darcel McBath, who made it all the way to the NFL,” Daulong said. “Guys like Amos Berryman and Chris Brown, they’re still leaders in their lives. Everyone has made something of themselves, has a family now and still applies those lessons we learned from football in their lives today.”
With their predecessors watching, today’s Leopards will be busy trying to win their second district game against the Indians.
The matchup pits two of the top running backs in the state against one another. Adam Berryman has run for 857 yards and Sanger’s Trevon Jackson has 949 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season.