Shay Hodge has had a lot of great memories as a football player at Morton High, Ole Miss and in the NFL. He added another to the list of his memorable moments Friday night in Monroe, La. Only this time he wasn’t wearing shoulder pads, a helmet and a jersey.
Hodge earned his first victory as a head coach when his Hillcrest Christian Cougars defeated River Oaks, La., 15-0 to break a 29-game losing streak, the longest active losing streak in Mississippi. It was first victory for Hillcrest since a 33-7 decision over Amite County Sept. 30, 2016.
“My guys have been working very hard and I felt good that they were finally able to taste victory,” said Hodge, who took over the Hillcrest program this year after being an assistant at Provine. “I felt good on the way over there (a hour and a half bus ride) because our players were ready to win and were prepared. River Oaks didn’t have many players and had only won one game, It was time.”
Sophomore Xavier Davis and junior Dakari Ramsey scored touchdowns and junior Ted Windom Jr. kicked a field goal for Hillcrest’s scoring. The Cougar defense – led by Davis, Ramsey and junior Levi Wyatt, who had an interception and several key tackles – kept River Oaks out of the end zone.
“Coach Hodge believed in us since day one and he never quit on us,” said Davis, who has been at Hillcrest since the eighth grade. “He pushed us at practice to give 100 percent and that’s what we gave during the games. I learned through this losing streak that anything is possible and if you keep on believing anything can happen.”
“It felt good to break the Hillcrest Christian curse,” said Hillcrest sophomore Melvin Collins Jr., a 6-foot-5, 362-pound defensive lineman is in his first year at Hillcrest after transferring from Raymond High. “My emotions were running crazy inside, but I didn’t show much on the outside and kept calm. I learned through all of this that you must be able to handle adversity. You can’t let the scoreboard determine your play and attitude. You must stay positive. Coach Hodge encouraged me to keep my head up, to be consistent on each play, and the wins would come.”
Hodge took over a program that not only lost 10 games in each of the last two seasons, but only scored 23 points last year, were shut out eight times and allowed 40 or more points seven times.
“I’ve been on losing teams before at Morton and at Ole Miss, but you have to keep on working hard every day in order to improve and get better,” said Hodge, whose team lost the first five games this season before getting their first win. “I explained to them there wasn’t much difference between winning and losing our games. We were just making simple mistakes and we need to correct those and keep battling. We needed to look at the big picture and keep positive. The wins will come.”
Hodge was right. He almost got his first win in his debut earlier this year against Amite School, losing 14-12. That was improvement right there because Hillcrest didn’t score until the sixth game last season. After the close loss to Amite, there were lopsided losses to Glenbrook, La. (41-14), Carroll (44-0), Cathedral (34-0) and Riverfield, La. (60-14).
“We’ll build on this win moving forward by putting the work in day by day, taking it one game at a time and trusting everyone around us,” said Wyatt, who transferred to Hillcrest from Holmes County Central two weeks ago. “Now we know we can get the job done. We’re going to work harder every day and each week we’re going to come with a different mindset as a team and look to win each game.”
“I’ve played a lot of football and I’ve got a lot of stories to tell my players on how to handle success and failure,” said Hodge, who was an All-State receiver at Morton, an All-SEC receiver at Ole Miss and played for a year and a half with the Cincinnati Bengals and a training camp with the Washington Redskins. “You’re got to keep on fighting. Nothing in life will be easy. You are going to face adversity. But you can overcome it with hard work, persistence and determination.”
“Now we know the feeling of winning we want to go into next week with that same mentality and more effort than we put in last week,” Davis said. “Everyone wants to win, but you have to earn it.”
Hillcrest goes for its second straight victory Friday night when it plays host to Greenville Christian. Greenville Christian lost its first four games, but defeated Tunica Academy 25-12 last week. Greenville Christian defeated Hillcrest 38-0 in the season opener last season and 40-6 in the season opener two years ago. But the Cougars are now riding a one-game winning streak instead of a losing streak.
“I’m going to remind them of how that win felt,” Hodge said. “I know they want that feeling again.”