The Tigers were a team that always seemed to be in rebuilding mode, with no end in sight.
Then the 2012 season started.
Suddenly everything’s different around the high school and the community. There is actually a buzz about football in the hallways at Meek High School and the town of Arley is taking a little pride in its football team for the first time in nearly a decade.
Due to a 3-0 start this season, Meek is no longer the punchline.
“The kids are walking around with some excitement. Being in the hallways, their demeanor has changed,” third-year Meek coach Lance Archer said. “They are proud of what they’ve accomplished. We’ve still got some people not respecting us right now, but when you’ve won three games in two years, you don’t get much respect.”
Meek gained some respect last week with a region win over Sumiton Christian. The Tigers returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a thrilling 27-24 victory, giving Meek its first 3-0 start since 2003.
Now, the team eyes win No. 4 tonight with a game at Falkville. Both teams enter with perfect 3-0 records.
Getting to 4-0 is another story. No player on this year’s team was born the last time Meek won its first four games back in 1990. The gravity of this week’s matchup doesn’t escape Archer.
“The possibility to get to 4-0 and basically clinch a playoff spot — that’s a big deal. I’d say this is the most important game these kids have ever played. We’ve also got some extra motivation because we are going to be their homecoming game,” Archer said.
There are five seniors behind this year’s resurgence: Austin Grace, Cameron Hallmark, Jentson Hiller, Jacob Moon and Garrett Raines. All five have battled through some tough years at Meek.
Over the last three years, the Tigers are 5-25, including a 1-9 mark last season. Meek entered this season on a nine-game losing streak, but there were signs that things were turning around earlier this year.
In the spring jamboree in May, the Tigers knocked off Addison and tied Lynn. Though the games didn’t matter in the standings, they did give the team some long-awaited bragging rights.
“We hadn’t beat Addison since forever. That gave us motivation. We were thinking, ‘We can do this,’” Grace said. “We had a lot of young guys on the team last year. Now we’re more experienced. We’ve also been in the weight room. We are a lot stronger. We’re just a better well-rounded team this year.”
“What changed is that the seniors got together and we decided that this is the year that we can take over and change everybody’s perspective on Meek football,” Hiller said. “What got us motivated was that we were sitting there on the first day of school and nobody was talking about the game that night against Cold Springs. We thought, ‘We’ve got to change what Arley thinks about us.’ It’s carried over since then. People are talking right now, saying that they are going to Falkville to watch the game. We used to not have a good fan base on the road.”
“I’ve noticed a change in town,” Grace added. “Like we will walk into the coffee shop to go eat and when we go to pay for our food, they will say, ‘Somebody’s already taken care of it.’ That has never happened before.”
One boost to the Tigers’ success this season has been the move from Region 5 to Region 6. Instead of playing the likes of No. 1 Marion County, No. 6 Pickens County, Lynn, Berry and Parrish in region play, Meek faces Southeastern — playing its first season in the AHSAA — Shades Mountain Christian and Appalachian.
Meek opened the season with a narrow 21-20 overtime win against Appalachian. The Tigers rallied to tie the game late in the fourth quarter before winning in overtime.
A 41-8 win over Woodville followed leading up to last week’s win over Sumiton Christian. Through three games, the Tigers are only 13 points shy of reaching last year’s point total of 102.
“I feel like everybody is into it this year. Everybody knows what their task is. It seems like everyone is in sync with each other. No one has a negative mind set,” Raines said. “Us starting 3-0 has made a huge difference in the community. It’s definitely the opposite of the feeling I’ve had the last couple of years.”
“We haven’t been good since I’ve been here, until this year,” added Hallmark. “Everybody is excited. We all got closer after that Sumiton Christian game and now we are pretty excited about Falkville, too.”
Archer has set a goal of making the playoffs this season. Starting out 2-0 in region play helps, but Meek still faces a tough three-game stretch starting next week with a home game against defending 1A state champ Marion County in a non-region game and closing with region games against Ragland and Addison.
“Going into the season I felt like if we didn’t win at least five games I would be disappointed. Obviously, if we go 5-5, that’s a huge improvement, but we don’t want to stop at five. Our big goal is making the playoffs. It’s been a long time since Meek has made it,” Archer said.
“We’ve finally grown together as a team. The school believes in us. The town believes in us. That’s something we haven’t seen before,” said Moon. “I’ve never been part of a winning team before. It’s my dream. I think this is the year.”