Vikings’ leaders help them to focus, silence critics

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2003

&uot;When I was a kid I got no respect.&160; The time I was kidnapped, and the kidnappers sent my parents a note they said, &uot;We want five thousand dollars or you’ll see your kid again.&uot;

&045; Comedian Rodney Dangerfield


Email newsletter signup


VIDALIA, La. &045; Rodney Dangerfield made a handsome living off his self-deprecating humor.

Vidalia head coach Dee Faircloth hopes his No. 3 Vikings (13-0) can silence those who doubt his team’s success and return to the Miss-Lou in a week and a half with a Class 2A state championship trophy.

&uot;You expect Northeast to be there; Sterlington and Rayville; West St. John. But no one in the state of Louisiana expected Vidalia to be here. We’re definitely the underdog,&uot; said Faircloth, in his 36th year with the Vikings. &uot;Of course, David was too when he stepped up there with that rock.&uot;

And Faircloth believes the Goliaths do not come any bigger than No. 2 West St. John. Vidalia’s semifinal opponent in Edgard, La., at 7 p.m. Friday.

A scroll down the message board of one popular Louisiana sports Web site finds few even given Vidalia a shot to stay in the same ballpark as the Rams (13-1), whose only loss was to 3A’s top seed Parkview Baptist earlier during the regular season.

Critics point to what they believe is a weak Viking schedule, despite five quality wins over teams that made it into the 2003 postseason &045; Jena, Rayville, Ferriday, Block and Delhi.

&uot;We haven’t got any respect from anybody,&uot; lineman Matt Hinson said. &uot;We’ve made it to the final four and people are still saying we don’t play anybody. That kills me every time I see that.&uot;

Others like tight end/defensive end Steven Cooper say the constant bickering and doubting Thomas behavior is tired and childish.

Truth be told, Cooper believes he and his teammates are on a lot of people’s minds after they utterly dismantled Mamou 46-12 is he quarterfinals last Friday.

&uot;I told the team I don’t feel like we’re underrated,&uot; Cooper said. &uot;We might not like to say it, but I think there are teams out there that are worried about us just like we worry about other teams.&uot;

Still, ask Faircloth, and like many coaches, he enjoys the underdog role. He’d rather his Vikings maintain the blue-collar attitude they have approached each game with this season.

If Vidalia does not receive the fanfare until after it demonstrates its prowess with the first football state championship school history, fine with Faircloth.

&uot;That’s the way we want it to be. You don’t want people saying, ‘Aw, you ought to win it,’ he said. &uot;David didn’t go after Goliath with any press clippings. We’ve been outmanned all year long. Size doesn’t intimidate us because everybody has had size except us.&uot;

Which is a good thing because the Vikings will see a lot of behemoths in southeast Louisiana Friday, namely lineman Tyson Jackson (6-7, 270), a LSU commitment.

But it is necessarily not the concrete that Faircloth, Hinson and Cooper belief vaults teams to the next round this deep in the postseason.

More so it is something intangible that marks the character of a true champion.

&uot;We got so close last year that we know how it feels to lose before you reach your goals,&uot; Cooper said of last year’s second round dismissal at the hands of Riverside Academy. &uot;It’s a bad feeling. We don’t want to go through that anymore.&uot;

What Vidalia has going for it, are its 17 seniors. Perhaps more than ever, the sense of urgency that his flowing through these Vikings’ veins is palpitating.

The fact that each of the 17 starts in one form or another gives the Vikings a keen sense and a familiarity of how the other lined up next to them will react once the ball is snapped.

&uot;No matter how good a freshman is, he’s still a freshman and he’ll make freshman mistakes,&uot; Faircloth said. &uot;(The seniors) do a great job with leadership and that has kept it together for us several times this season. Hopefully it can turn the tide for us on Friday night.&uot;

The old ball coach worried during the offseason about replacing Jessie Lyles, an emotional senior leader who was always good for providing a spark during the 2002 season.

Faircloth has been impressed that not one, but every one of the 17 seniors has had his time to either be vocal or calm the team in pressure circumstances.

&uot;If I think one of them is doing something wrong, I’ll tell them and if I screw up and they tell me, I’ll say, ‘OK, I’ll try and do better the next time,’&uot; Hinson said.

Cooper added: &uot;No one is jealous of others and we stick to the job at hand. A lot of people are saying &045; and have said &045; that we haven’t played anybody. We’ve got the type of team that can make it. We’ve got to keep proving ourselves every week.&uot;

An outlook Jacob Cohen, a.k.a. Rodney Dangerfield, can appreciate.