MACON — For Meridian senior running back Zach Bowman, the Hawks' Week 1 60-8 victory over Oblong/Hutsonville/Palestine was about more than the team shaking off some past difficulties.
Meridian's victory on the road last Friday was the most points the team had scored this century (they last put up 60 against Shelbyville during Week 3 in 1999) and it was the first season-opening win since 2005.
But for Bowman, it was a chance to finally show what he was capable of on the field.
"All across the board we did really great," Bowman said. "I got to go in and actually prove what I could do. I’ve sat on the sidelines for a couple years and I decided I wanted to change things around and I changed it around for the good. I showed what I could do and hopefully I can help out and hopefully we can go pretty far."
Bowman racked up 100 yards rushing on six carries and had one touchdown as the Hawks surprised themselves in the victory.
"I think it did surprise us, but once we started rolling we figured we can just take it and we just kept going and didn’t question it," Bowman said.
Meridian coach Micah Sheppard has witnessed a changing attitude in his team this offseason. The idea is that this season is going to be a big improvement for the team — it is their time.
"I think a lot of this team kind of has an, 'It’s our time’ mentality," Sheppard said. "There are players who are ready to turn the page and move forward with the program and I think the big difference with this group is how well they get along together. They hang out so much outside of football that they are willing to sacrifice for one another on the football field. They are unselfish guys and I think that carries this group a long way."
In Bowman's time with the team, the Hawks have struggled with two victories over the last two seasons and a win-less season in 2016. The difficult seasons brought the team closer.
"We have all been through a lot. During our losing seasons, we've all been talked down on. With our team, not everyone believes in us, so we came together and got to be good friends," Bowman said. "We have to set some higher goals and I’m going to have to push myself for that next game and keep building."
Bowman's attitude is exactly what Sheppard is looking for: Players to step up when the game requires it. Bowman is one of those players.
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"I'm looking for guys to step up. We are looking at a situation with our skill guys that we can rotate guys in and not feel like we are losing a whole lot," Sheppard said. "Zach’s a four-year player who really works his tail off and deserved all the success that he had Friday night."
The Hawks were statistically led by quarterback and leading rusher Jacob Jones who had 207 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. Also taking that step up for the Hawks on defense was free safety C.J. Scott who had two interceptions in Week 1.
"C.J. is a guy that is all over the field and he has the ability to survey the field and just attack," Sheppard said. "He’s very aggressive player and along with his interceptions he had six tackles from the free safety position which is not that common against a team that had trouble moving the ball.
"He just has a nose for the ball and is aggressive. He is a smart football player."
Scott also believes this year will be noteworthy for the Hawks.
"The win is a big confidence booster, especially in our first game," Scott said. "The film looked pretty great when we were going over the defense. Everyone was filling their gaps and we all did pretty well.
"We have been having a building process since my freshman year and this year I think we are going to make a run. It feels like we will have a good season this year."
A victory in Week 2 at home against Kincaid South Fork on Friday would be a huge step towards getting to that fifth victory and a possible a playoff bid, a first for the team since 2008.
"We are gearing up for Kincaid and getting ready for everything they could possibly throw at us and hopefully we will come out on top," Bowman said. "I think this is our year and it is my time to show what I can do and go all out for my last year."
The Hawks schedule will get a lot tougher as the CIC schedule begins Week 3 when a well-rested St. Teresa team — the Bulldogs have no Week 2 game following the disbanding of the Varna Midland co-op — comes to Macon.
"It’s tough year to year. Our first conference game against St. Teresa will be a true test for us to see where we are at," Sheppard said. "We are excited about conference play and for us as a program (the Week 1 win) was very important but at some point we are trying to improve week to week and focus on our next opponent and try to do the best we can to prepare them."