November 16, 2016
Louisburg College’s football team ended its season this month undefeated. The Hurricanes beat nine teams – the best record in 11 years of competing.
The young men who brought home the wins are rightfully proud of their accomplishments. They’ll be honored during Louisburg College’s basketball game Nov. 21. But listen to these talented, motivated sophomores and freshmen, and what comes through most clearly is not the spotless record at the nation’s oldest private two-year college.
It’s the story of how they worked together to become “a band of brothers.” It’s also how Louisburg College coached character first, made academics top priority and still managed to run the table.
The work began long before the team set foot on the field. Recruiting a mix of young men – among them a transfer from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who really wanted to play football, an extremely shy guy from Winston-Salem who came to this little town to focus, and twins from rural North Carolina hoping to improve their chances to play at a Division 1 school.
Last spring, it dawned on Larrell Murchison, a defensive tackle and one of the twins, that he couldn’t go through the motions and succeed, either on the field or in the classroom. “I’m in college,” he recalled thinking. “I gotta step it up.”
Over the summer, as the players perfected tackles, improved their footwork and gained strength, 93 young men, under the tutelage of Head Coach Trevor Highfield, and assisted by Coaches Chris Tolbert, Rob Rogers, Will Orbin, Matthew Goggans and Cory Minnie, learned about setting goals and outlining what it takes to achieve them.
“Imagine yourself doing it,” said Murchison, 19, one of the team captains. “Work hard and pay attention.”
They were expected to attend class. Be on time. Turn in their work.
Anyone new to the team or whose grade-point average was lower than 2.5 was required to go to study hall every week.
“The coaches are big on academics,” said David Thompson, 20, another captain.
Six coaches ensured the players were on the right track, lecturing, encouraging, pointing out errors and how to do better next time. Their mission: “build men of character and empathy who will go on to make a positive impact on the world.”
Lessons about character, accountability and teamwork came every day. Fail to attend a team meeting? You’ll be in the weight room at 6 a.m. Saturday with Minnie, the conditioning coach. Show up late, or forget to silence your phone? You’ll be running up and down the field as penance. Your teammates may be punished, too, for your transgressions.
Learning together, living together, relying on each other builds trust and friendship. After hours in the weight room with trainer Tyler Britt, in study halls, around the breakfast table and on the team bus, “it’s a band of brothers,” said Myles Brown, who transferred from West Point. “It’s about being accountable for yourself and your teammates.”
The season began with an easy victory. In the first of only two home games this season, the Hurricanes walloped Jireh Prep 57-7.
They had a tougher match the following week: Navy’s junior varsity team, playing in Annapolis. Another win, 27-23.
The Hurricanes shut out Averett University JV, 67-0, then did the same to Christopher Newport University’s junior varsity, 42-0.
"I am proud of how our team represented the college today," Highfield said after the game.
He was talking about performance on the field, but also their attitudes. “The most important victory we need to achieve before we can win life’s many battles is to overcome self-doubts and develop a winning attitude,” he told his players.
The next week, the team defeated Palmetto Prep 52-38.
In his team meeting the following week, just before playing N.C. Wesleyan’s junior varsity, Highfield commended his players. “What I see with this team is the attitude changing. As the season has progressed, we have become more and more positive. We have become more and more supportive. We have become more and more our brother’s keeper. We have become more and more a team with a winning attitude.”
Another decisive win followed, 71-12.
In mid-October, the Canes beat the Apprentice School 45-36, then came back to Louisburg for Homecoming, where the crowd watched the lead change several times. The Hurricanes won against Hocking College 52-40.
And finally, Louisburg College played Virginia University of Lynchburg and managed a victory: 21-20.
It seemed natural for a college team with an undefeated season to be anticipating a trip to a bowl. Unfortunately, the National Junior College Athletic Association’s bowl games are tied to conferences, and Louisburg College isn’t part of a conference. Even if the team were considered for a bid, the closest bowl game would be in Mississippi.
And it would be just before exams.
Three team members are in the honors program. Others also had worked hard to improve their grades, preparing to transfer to four-year schools. With the football program’s academics-first emphasis, a bowl game wouldn’t have made sense.
At a team meeting, Highfield, who had been a member of the 1991 national champion University of Washington football team, outlined for his players the big picture. “Men, it is not about championships. It’s about being champions.” It’s about the process that gets you there, he said, “not the outcome.”
Success “is the result of consciously doing something each day that will add to your overall excellence... Think about what you need to do in this drill, on this play, during this test, in this moment.”
This team of champions knows what’s expected, on the field and off. Set goals. Outline the steps necessary to reach the goals. Work to succeed. And never, ever give up.
They look up to Highfield. “He’s been there,” said Murchison. “He’s been Division 1 – places we want to go.”
They know their teammates and classmates are watching. They know the spotlight is on them. Make eye contact. Be considerate. No slouching. “No hats, no hoods, no phones, no earphones.”
“It’s about becoming the person you want to be,” said Thompson, a sophomore from Winston-Salem who is a resident advisor in his dorm. Louisburg College gave him a chance to “get my grades up and better myself. I had to grow up.”
Highfield, meeting with two captains, Thompson and Murchison, to talk about off-season training, asked how the team was doing. “What do I need to know?”
“We’re in a good spot,” Thompson said. “Everybody’s focused for the next season.”