Toughness fuels turn-around for Trion Bulldogs - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Toughness fuels turn-around for Trion Bulldogs

After Trion slipped to a 2-8 season in 2011, first-year coach Justin Brown has led his alma mater to 9 wins and a state quarterfinal appearance in 2012. After Trion slipped to a 2-8 season in 2011, first-year coach Justin Brown has led his alma mater to 9 wins and a state quarterfinal appearance in 2012.

TRION, Ga. (WRCB) -- Vitamin C and plenty of sleep are late additions to Trion football's game-week preps for its road trip to Emmanuel County Institute in the quarterfinals of the GHSA Class A Public School state playoffs.

Such is life when the flu ravages a team.

"I'm worried about getting beat by the flu right now, rather than ECI," said head coach Justin Brown. "We had about 40-percent of our kids miss school already this week."

While two days without practice isn't ideal with the biggest game of the season looming, Brown isn't worried about what he'll get from those healthy enough to play on Friday.

Toughness and discipline have been the driving forces for the Bulldogs all year, helping return the proud program to the postseason after a disappointing 2-8 mark last season.

"This off-season was the hardest I'd ever worked," said senior lineman Eman Wooten. "Coach talked about bringing back the pride and tradition, and I feel like we've done that."

Brown is one of the main reasons.

In his first season as head coach at his alma mater, the former Trion player and assistant coach changed just about every facet of the program.

"The main part is the kids bought in immediately to what we wanted to do here. Trion's always had a great tradition in football, but we'd been down the last few years," Brown said. "We changed the way we lift weights and the way we condition in the summer. We changed the offense, defense and special teams. We changed pretty much everything.

"You could tell just from spring practice and into the summer there was something different about the way our kids acted and the way they felt about themselves."

Never was that more apparent than last week, when the Bulldogs snapped two long postseason streaks with a surprising 31-6 rout of heavily-favored host Irwin County.

The program's first road playoff win in more than three decades ended a string of eight straight seasons without a postseason victory -- the longest such streak in the proud program's history.

"Friday night was if not the best, one of the best ballgames we've played in awhile," Brown said. "We had a pretty good crowd ride down there, so for them to see our kids put on that kind of performance against that kind of competition... that was great.

"This is a pretty good place to be right now."

Added Wooten: "We took a lot of confidence from it. We know what we need to do now to beat a team like that," said Wooten. "That was big because it was our first road playoff win in 31 years, now we need to make it two in a row."

To do that, they'll need an equally impressive performance against another heavily-favored opponent. ECI trounced Gordon Lee 46-12 in last week's opening round, and offers another four-plus hour bus ride for the Bulldogs.

Flu or not, Brown is confident his kids will show up.

"We've had three main goals for every game, and those were to play physical, play hard and execute. For the most part, I think we've done that," Brown said. "We've had moments here or there where we didn't execute perfectly, but there's not a game this year I didn't think our kids went out and played as hard as they could."

 And that has the Bulldogs looking past the paper, which has ECI as a likely favorite to win the state title, and Trion as the lowest remaining seed (11) in the public school bracket.

"It's a playoff game, so it's big because we haven't been to the playoffs in awhile, but it's just another game," said senior lineman Cody Brown. "We're just going to keep doing our stuff, hit them hard and execute. We'll see what happens."

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