To the victors belong the spoils.
The Knights were finally bestowed with the treasure they earned on a chilly November evening in Macon at a ring ceremony Thursday in the Frederica Academy gymnasium celebrating the program’s first Class 3A football state championship.
Family, classmates, teachers and administrators were among the supporters on hand to cheer the heroes as they received championship rings emblazoned with a green FA in the center.
“I think it’s great for us and our program to start where we were at, and where we’re at now, it’s remarkable,” said head coach Brandon Derrick. “I think it’s a testament to our coaches and our unity of the faculty here and the administration to try to build a program that’s going to be excellent.”
Frederica’s season was one of dominance and redemption coming off a heart-breaking loss in the GISA semifinals the year prior.
The Knights internalized the setback and used the painful memory as motivation to make sure their season would not end the same way.
“We finally succeeded,” said senior Harry Veal. “We should have last year and we just finally went all the way and did it.
“It was just a relief basically.”
The season second game of the season was a 7-6 loss in overtime at home against the same Valwood Valiants that eliminated Frederica from the postseason nine and a half months earlier. The loss dropped the Knights to 0-2 before rattling off six straight wins by an average of 33.5 points per game.
Frederica dropped another overtime game 14-13 at home against John Milledge Academy, but the senior night defeat turned out to be the galvanizing moment for the team’s championship run.
The Knights rallied from the loss to win three straight games by a combined score of 162-58, including a 60-27 beat down of Valwood following a first-round bye, to set up a rematch with John Milledge in the title game at Mercer’s Five Star Stadium.
Revenge-minded Frederica Academy rolled into Macon hungry to finish what it started a season ago and proved it was unquestionably the best team in Class 3A in a 48-0 route of John Milledge that wasn’t even as close as the final score would indicate.
“It’s a moment you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” said senior Cole Hinson.
The Knights lifted the GISA trophy Nov. 30, but more than four months later the accomplishment had still not set in for some players — until Thursday that is.
Senior Ja’Shawn Sheffield was absent from school with an illness the day the championship rings came in, and as a result, he was one of the few players not to get a sneak peak of the hardware as the jewelry went into a safe shortly thereafter.
“We won state, but I’m not going to lie, for a minute, it didn’t feel like it because I didn’t have nothing to show for it,” Sheffield said ahead of the ceremony. “I didn’t sleep at all this week. I’ve just been ready to get my ring, show it off, signing today, I’m just excited. I’m nervous too.”
Senior Jaylin Simpson got a look at the championship rings and the anticipation of receiving a symbol of his team’s achievement has driven him as he finishes out his final few weeks at Frederica Academy.
“That’s all I’ve been coming to school for this week,” Simpson said with a smile.
The Knights’ state title will always be a significant milestone in the lives of the players and coaches, but they were far from the only ones in the St. Simons community impacted by the championship.
Support staff members worked behind the scenes, from athletic director Carl Nash to bus driver DeRay Farmer and everyone in-between, to do what they could for the Knights, and Derrick presented them with commutative watches featuring Frederica’s logo.
“It’s definitely emotional,” said Jeffrey Elliott. “It goes to show what we worked for all year and we’re kind of just wrapping it up at the end.
“It’s a nice farewell to leave on a good note and hopefully some of these younger guys can pick up in the place we left off and go get another ring.”