The memory is still there. But it’s not altogether a bitter one.
Needing just one more region tournament victory to qualify for the Class AAAA postseason back in February, an 8-17 Red Raider team pushed no. 1 seed Rockdale County to the brink before falling overtime by three points.
“So much heartache and so much frustration, but yet at the same time, it creates such a hunger for these younger guys, to say, ‘hey, we were right there with the top team in the region,” Red Raider coach Steve Crouse said.
Nine months later, the Red Raiders — who tip the season off Friday at home against Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy — hope they finally have the pieces in place to end a 12-year state tournament drought.
Madison County’s inside game rests in the capable hands of four-year starter Patrick McCrary, who’s nearing 1,000 career points and is the ultimate team player, according to Crouse. McCrary, who just completed his first and only year of football, was an all-region basketball selection last year.
“Patrick McCrary has been a starter in our program for four years,” Crouse said. “And it’s a testimony to what kind of kid he is. He works so hard.”
Madison County, however, faces an overhaul of its backcourt personnel this winter with the graduation of Chad Griffeth, Seth Fleming, Reterrium Davis, Jeremy Smith and Ben Morris.
But what the Red Raider guards lack this year in experience, they make up for with athleticism.
Newcomer Stan Maxwell, a transfer from Franklin County, “did an excellent job” at point guard over the summer, Crouse said, while T.J. McGuire and Kendrick Butler both proved dependable in the backcourt in the offseason.
Meanwhile, Bradley Raines, the team’s second-leading scorer, will play more on the wing this year after serving as more of post player last year. Also in the fold at guard are Trey Burton, Josh Crouse and Dominique Parrish.
“We don’t have has much experience at that position, but we’ve got a lot of guys that can play it and are very athletic,” Crouse said.
With the depth Madison County enjoys this year, Crouse hesitates to name a starting five. But the following rotation should get the bulk of the minutes, at least early on: McCrary, Maxwell, McGuire, Burton, Raines, Presly McKeever, Butler, Terrell McCrary, Parrish and Josh Crouse.
“The way we’re playing right now, there’s eight, nine, 10 guys who should get a fair number of minutes, especially if we get into shape,” Crouse said.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Marquis Thomas, Matthew “Raybo” Robinson and Jamal Cooper.
“We’ve probably have more depth this year that we have had in while,” Crouse said.
The problem right now? Shaking off the rust given the number of football players on the basketball roster. Much of the team was still suited up in helmets and pads just two weeks ago.
In fact, Madison County had just four full practices prior to Saturday’s Red and Gray scrimmage.
That leaves Crouse cautiously excited about Friday’s opener against Southwest Atlanta Christian.
“We can’t wait until Friday, but I need a few more days to get ready,” Crouse said.
Still this is a group that’s proved it can play well together, given time. Crouse noted that Madison County went 31-5 in exhibition games over the summer.
He’s hoping that play will resurface this winter when the games count.
“I’m really pleased on what we built on during the summer,” Crouse said.
Though some of the players may be a bit rusty, the team’s resolve is clear: It doesn’t want to be on the outside looking in again come February.
“I’ve had a lot of seniors talking to me about it, and saying, ‘hey, we want to make sure we take care of business this year,’” Crouse said.