Sampson Middle School continued their dominance in conference play this football season, in going 5-0 and wrapping up their fifth consecutive conference championship.
It is the fifth in as many years for their head coach, Tracy Thornton.
“It was a good year with a good group of kids,” said the Dark Horse head coach, whose team started the season with a lot of injuries.
“We were banged up in the beginning of the year, and we made it by that phase,” said Thornton. “We got healthier, and a lot better as a football team throughout the season, which is always good to see.”
With Clinton having such a rich and storied program in football, Thornton has taken a special note to try to prepare the middle school team for what they are going to be doing once they get to high school.
“That’s our job here at the middle school in coaching them,” he said. “That’s a cool thing about it, is the fact that we are a part of something bigger than just our middle school team. We run the same offenses and defenses that they will be running when they get to the next level, and we try to install a work ethic and understanding of what we are trying to accomplish.”
Thornton said that this group of players were some of the most disciplined that he had coached, and they always came to work hard at practice each and every day.
“Going from rec football to middle school, it’s a big adjustment. There they’re only practicing maybe two nights a week, but with us it’s every single day from 3:30 to 5:30, and at the start of the year it’s in the hot sun. It’d be easy for the guys to get frustrated and be lazy, but they always came ready to work and get better.”
Eddie Grey, Bill Warren and Kevin Ellis were mentioned by Thornton as assistants that helped him lay down building blocks at the middle school. They are now coaching on the JV staff at Clinton.
Brooks Barwick, Tom Mackell, Tracy Jackson and Jeff Davidson helped Thornton coach the middle school this season, and Thornton stressed their importance.
“All of those guys have been huge for the whole Clinton football program, and we really are thankful for what they do,” expressed Thornton.
Thornton said that one thing has been common among all of the years he has been coach, the fact that the kids that come out to play are really great athletes.
“We can talk about coaching as much as we want, but you can’t teach natural athletic ability, and we have been blessed with that every year here,” he said.
The result of that talent and good coaching has been five straight championships.
The first group that Thornton coached at Sampson are seniors on this year’s Clinton Dark Horses team. They are in action Friday night with a trip to the third round of the state playoffs. That group of seniors have already won an Eastern Championship.
This group of players that led Sampson to an undefeated season have high hopes as they move on to the next level of Dark Horses football.