ROANOKE, Va. – It’s been an historic year for the William Fleming Colonels who have reached the VHSL State Tournament for the first time in nearly two decades. In their quest for state gold, they’ve come to learn appreciate that playing this deep into the postseason was the norm in the early 2000s.
If you attend any practice at William Fleming, you’re guaranteed of two things-- intensity and confidence-- especially here of late.
“It’s been like a whole culture change. We got the juice,” said Colonels middle linebacker Matthew Eaton.
And the ‘New Fleming’ has proven it-- going from worst (0-10 in 2017), to first as Region 5D Champions this season.
“We’re always close like a family,” said Colonels wide receiver Louis English. “That’s how we get through a lot of our games and a lot of our situations.”
Coming together for the common goal is the same attitude the William Fleming Colonels team from 2003 had-- the last time the program reached the State Tournament.
“The nucleus of that team-- we all went from football, basketball to track.”
Dere Hicks was a junior quarterback during that magical season under coach Kieth Smith, leading Fleming to a State Runner-Up bid. He would go on to play defensive back at the University of Illinois. Hicks says the coaching staff and the legends that came before him, were game changers--guys that suited up not only in the blue and gold but also the NFL.
“Jermaine Hardy, John St. Clair, Lee Suggs-- those guys set the bar for everybody that was here. Every year, Coach Kieth Smith set the vision for us each year and his words still stick in my head till this day--just compete,” Hicks said.
Larry Bishop spent 10 seasons as an assistant for Fleming from 1996 to 2006. Physicality and toughness was a the core of the program.
“We had that dog mentality,” Bishop said.
“We were coming after you. We practiced that way and I remember Coach Smith was like ‘slow down’ sometimes. We couldn’t even hit in practice because we would hurt each other,” said Bishop.
Hicks echoed those same sentiments adding that many times it was hard for the staff to schedule games since many teams didn’t want to line up against the Blue and Gold.
Fast forward 18 years, and coach Jamar Lovelace has instilled that same grit-- crediting the community and former coaches and players for contnued support.
“All those guys in the past were a big part of why we are where we are now,” said Lovelace. “Just that sense of belief that they’ve had and they’ve taken bumps and bruises with us.”
“Just happy,” said Bishop. “We’ve been dogged for so many years and they finally got it right.”
And the Colonels hope to get it right on Saturday, when they welcome in 2019 State Runner-Up, Stone Bridge.
“We know what’s at stake and we want to make sure our guys stay level headed,” Lovelace said.
When asked if the team feels pressure considering the stage, Matthew Eaton responded, “The pressure is more confidence building than more added pressure.”