LITHIA — When the Newsome football team exits the locker room before each home game, every player slaps a sign by the door that reads "never quit."
And that motto has never been more apropos than this season, when the Wolves overcame early-season blowouts and devastating injuries to position themselves where they are now — with a chance to win a district title on senior night.
Newsome hosts Durant tonight and a Wolves win clinches the Class 5A-6 district title. A loss puts both postseason berths into a three-team tiebreaker Monday among Newsome, Durant and Plant City.
"I've been in their ear all week about what's at stake here," Newsome coach Kenneth Hiscock said. "They understand and they're ready."
In some ways, it's hard to believe the Wolves are here after what they've endured. On the field, they lost their first four games of the season, including a preseason loss to Spoto and a controversial three-quarter one-point setback to Jefferson that was ultimately nullified.
Newsome (5-2, 3-0) lost its regular-season opener to Armwood by six touchdowns and dropped a 25-point loss to Alonso.
"There was some serious soul-searching," Hiscock said.
"We thought we were a better team, but we just weren't whole," senior Niko Anthony said. "We were playing like a bunch of separate players."
But since then the Wolves have won five straight, despite losing potential Division I prospects — leading rusher Conner Powers and outside linebacker Joe Worth, both juniors — to season-ending injuries.
"We've learned it's how you finish," senior Shawn Boone said.
What's left is a team brimming with confidence.
"I think it got under their skin," Hiscock said. "It definitely touched a nerve. They were hungry. They were like, 'We're better than this, Coach.' "
One of the keys has been the ability of other players to step up.
When Powers went down with a knee injury against Leto four weeks ago — an injury that came a week after Newsome's best win of the year over Robinson — junior Vince Pennington stepped into the workhorse role at running back.
When Worth went down with a knee injury on the first play of the game against Bloomingdale the next week, his younger brother, freshman Will, stepped in at strongside linebacker.
Running back Darnell Tucker's ankle injury forced Anthony, a starting safety, to play on the offensive side of the ball. The Wolves also lost weakside linebacker Christian Durant, and Hiscock thrust a JV freshman, Jaquez Braggs, into the starting role.
"We're a little green," Hiscock said. "But guys have stepped up and produced. It's almost like them saying, 'Hey, Coach, you know what? It's my turn. I'm not sitting on the bench and I'm going to prove myself.' "
Tonight with a win over Durant (6-2, 2-1), the Wolves can prove themselves as district champions.
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org