Mike Mitchell did a couple of significant things when he took over as head football coach for the Sandpoint Bulldogs four years ago.
First, he changed the ring tone on his cell phone to “Who Let the Dogs Out?” – that little tune that I suspect will become as cliché at sporting events as “Louie, Louie” someday.
Second, he talked with the incoming freshmen, the class of 2010. He had been told that they were chock-full of talent.
“One of the first things I told them is this group is going to play for the state championship,” Mitchell said.
Now if you’ve followed high school sports for any length of time, you’ve no doubt heard of coaches predicting their freshmen would be state champions by the time they’re seniors.
In most cases we know that’s a stretch. The coaches aren’t so much lying as they’re being overzealous. Too many things, too many variables, are involved to achieve something as special as a state championship.
The Class of 2010 at Sandpoint started with about 50 playing that freshman season. Attrition being what it is each year with turnouts, the senior class stands at 29 strong.
“We lost a few that I thought were going to be good football players,” Mitchell said.
There are a number of parallels with this season and the freshman year. They went 7-2 as frosh, their two losses coming to Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls.
Sandpoint is 9-2 going into the 4A final Friday against Blackfoot (10-1) at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow at 7 p.m. Sandpoint’s two losses this year are to CdA and Post Falls.
Two of Sandpoint’s leaders from start to finish have been Cody Hecker and Ben Fisher.
Hecker, a two-way starter at running back and defensive end, has had an injury-plagued career. He broke an ankle as a freshman and tore the PCL in his left knee as a junior. This year he missed a game with a high ankle sprain.
He’s healthy for the title game.
“This season, without a doubt, has been the best thing in my life,” Hecker said. “To make it to a state championship game … me and a few kids back in our elementary days said we’d be here our senior year.”
Fisher, a two-way starter at running back and safety, has enjoyed the journey.
“It’s been pretty meaningful,” Fisher said. “To have a state championship would definitely be icing on the cake. Over the years I’ve watched friends older than me cry after games when the season is over. I want to be crying with my friends in victory that we won a state championship, not because we lost a game.”
The muddy bog at Sandpoint’s Barlow Stadium has slowed down the Bulldogs the last couple of weeks.
They’re excited about the opportunity to play on a faster track.
Hecker believes the Bulldogs must approach the game as they have their previous 11.
Hillcrest, which fell to Sandpoint 20-8 last week, beat Blackfoot 26-24 in late October.
“They’re a really good team,” Mitchell said. “It’s going to take our best effort. We think we’re playing pretty well ourselves right now.”
Fisher remembers fondly his freshman season.
“We were pretty dominating,” Fisher said. “We all kind of thought we had something special going.”
They – and their coach – were right.