NEW ALBANY – It’s been 28 years since New Albany High’s last appearance in a state championship football game.
With the Bulldogs’ 9-0 start this season, talk of returning to Jackson to play in a state title game has been brewing.
“We’ve had a lot of comparisons,” New Albany head coach Ron Price said about this year’s Bulldogs team being compared to the ’82 one. “In the community, folks have started talking about that football team (in 1982).
“To be compared to that football team is an honor because that’s the only New Albany team to make it to the state championship game.”
Said New Albany junior outside linebacker/running back Josh Creekmore, “It’s really exciting. When you’re a little kid, you dream about being on a football team that goes undefeated, and now you’re actually living the dream, taking down each team at a time.
“That’s what keeps you focused. You have the goal to win the division championship and then go to the state championship and play for that. And if you can do it undefeated, it shows that you really are one of the best teams.”
The New Albany High football program has not won more than nine games in a season since 1982, the season in which the 11-2 Bulldogs finished second in the state after losing to Columbia in the Class A state championship game.
On Friday night in Shannon, the Bulldogs will have an opportunity to not only win their 10th game of the season but to move one step closer to winning their first Division 1-4A title.
“Our goal is to beat Shannon and to be the division champion and to be 10-0,” Creekmore said.
The New Albany High junior’s father, Sam Creekmore, was a junior left offensive guard and defensive tackle on that ’82 Bulldogs state runner-up team.
The father of Shannon High senior center Tyler Rosenthal was a teammate of Sam Creekmore’s on that ’82 New Albany team. Bill Rosenthal, now an assistant principal at Shannon High, played right guard for the Bulldogs, who happened to defeat Shannon, 13-12, in their 1982 season opener.
“Every day at practice I got to go one-on-one with Bill Rosenthal,” Sam Creekmore said. “I was a junior and he was a senior, and he used to beat me every day.
“So, I’m looking for some redemption this Friday night.”
The elder Creekmore had one more thing to add to that.
“Yeah, Bill’s son is a lot better than he ever was,” joked Creekmore. “No, Bill was a great player. He was, I think, an all-state player. He was good.”
Reminiscing about ’82
Sam Creekmore said he bumps into his ’82 teammates all the time. He sees them and his high school coach, Ben Jones, at the New Albany High football games.
“Josh has got to meet Coach Jones, which is special to me,” Sam Creekmore said about his son.
On the other hand, Bill Rosenthal has been living in Shannon for the last 22 years and doesn’t know many of this year’s Bulldogs players. He had even coached at Shannon High for 14 years.
But the two former high school teammates still have pretty good memories of that ’82 team.
“I think as far as the standard goes for today’s teams, I wouldn’t say we were that big back then,” Rosenthal said. “We did have several guys who weighed 230 or more on the offensive line.
“We didn’t throw the ball a lot. We lined up in the wishbone and ran the football. We were pretty good defensively; we had four shutouts. We were pretty big and physical and had some kids that can run.”
When asked how this year’s New Albany team compares with the ’82 team, Sam Creekmore pointed out that the ’82 Bulldogs featured 15 new starters, 10 on offense, as opposed to the 13 returning starters (seven on offense) for this season.
“We had one returning lineman: Bill Rosenthal,” Creekmore said. “So, we had a lot of new players, but we had several good players.”
As a matter of fact, that Bulldogs squad featured three eventual NCAA Division I players: offensive tackle Keith Shirley (Memphis State, which is now known as the University of Memphis) and offensive linemen and twin brothers Tim and Tony Dillard (both went to Southern Miss), who were sophomore backups that year.
“As far as skill players, we didn’t have near the (talent at the) skill positions that they do,” said Creekmore, who had a brief stint as a player at Mississippi State. “But the defenses were very similar.”
And his son pointed out that the ’82 Bulldogs and his 2010 team recorded the same number of shutouts through their first nine games – three.
“He tells me these stories about how big they were,” Josh Creekmore said of whenever he asks his father about his playing days. “Compared to us, they were a lot bigger than we are, but I think we are faster than them. … I don’t know if we’re better than them or not.”
And Sam Creekmore is definitely not a member of the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins, who actively roots against any team that approaches their spot in the record books.
“I’ve always wanted Josh to play for a great team, with a great coach and where the community gets behind you and the family gets behind you,” Sam Creekmore said. “It’s been a great, great experience for him, and I’m glad to go through it this time on the other side as a parent.”
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or firstname.lastname@example.org
John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal