George Jenkins was 3-0 through three games last year but came crashing down to earth after a 42-7 loss to Ridge Community. Jenkins went 3-4 the rest of the way, finished behind Osceola, Ridge and Gateway in the district and failed to make the playoffs.
Through three games in 2018, the Eagles were again 3-0, albeit a bit more dominating 3-0 as they outscored their opponents 118-13. Then came Ridge Community on Friday only this time, they rose to the challenge to defeat the Bolts 14-7 in a Class 8A, District 7 game.
It's still too early to know accurately gauge playoff chances. No. 7 Kissimmee Osceola remains the heavy favorite to win the district, and the district runner-up is no lock to make the playoffs in the points system. Still, the victory was a another step in that direction, steps that began over the summer.
Playing the playoffs is the ultimate goal, George Jenkins coach Chris Canning said.
"We talked about what changes we had to make in order to make the playoffs," he said. "It started in the summer, it started in the weight room, and it started with everything we did conditioning wise. The kids bought in. We're still not where we want to be, but their hard work and buying in has paid off."
The success the Eagles are having, despite losing as many as 10 players to other schools, could be something they build on. With the exception of a senior-dominated offensive line, they're young. Quarterback Tyriq Starks, leading rusher and second leading tackler (tied) Debritton Mobley and leading receiver Marvin Landy are juniors, and leading tackler Demarea Johnson is just a sophomore.
"These kids have risen to the occasion," Canning said.
What truly impressed Canning was how his team didn't get down after falling behind early and was able rally.
"We discovered that we can come from behind and still win," Canning said. "Against Lake Region the week before, we came from behind twice. So that's kind of new territory for us too. I think the kids in the past were like, uh oh, here we go again. We had to take that (attitude) out of their system."
The Eagles get to savor the win for two weeks as they're off this week. Then they get another big test against Gateway, another district opponent. A win would put them in a strong position to finish at least second in the district behind Osceola — they'd still have to beat Haines City, which they did last year, 14-11.
"Our next hurdle in getting to the playoffs is playing against Kissimmee Gateway," Canning said.
A second-place finish doesn't guarantee a playoff spot, but it's like it would be enough to put Jenkins back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
"I think there's been growth and development in the program," Canning said. "I'm really, really proud of our kids. I'm anxious to get to the practice field and work toward getting ready for Gateway. And I think they feel that way too. Normally, Jenkins had been everybody's doormat. and now these kids have responded, and they've come to play."