HAMMOCK: Buford football fights through adversity to reach finals

Buford's football players had every reason not to be in their current position --playing in Friday's Class AAA state championship game in the Georgia Dome.

They had experienced players back for this season in Josh Cardiello, Mikey Bart and Jaylen Mize, but they were the only three returning starters from a team that graduated a whopping 31 seniors. The rest of the 2012 lineup would have to be filled by younger, less seasoned players.

Plus, how would the Wolves fare in AAA, a classification up from 2011. The personnel and the schedule alone had fans all over the state doubting (hoping is probably more like it) that Buford wouldn't be up to its usual standards.

The football season wasn't much kinder as injuries shredded the already new Buford lineup. Then two blowout region victories were forfeited because of a clerical error out of the players' control, a situation that eliminated any hopes the Wolves had for a region title.

All of those hardships were nothing compared to the what the Buford players and coaches dealt with over the past year --the deaths of three people close to them. That kind of loss is tough for anyone, especially a teenager, to deal with one time. But three times in such a short span is brutal.

Beloved football coach and Buford grad Ryan Daniel collapsed after a morning basketball game and died in January. Adam Smith, the players' classmate, died in similar fashion after a basketball workout in September. Former Wolves football player Devin Durden, whose father Gene teaches and coaches at the high school, was in a bad motorcycle accident and died in October.

A career's worth of bad luck would have been enough to derail some teams. Not Buford's 2012 bunch.

Football was surely a welcome distraction during those tough times, and the players and coaches now have even more reason to cherish every moment. They also have three angels to play for every time they take the field.

With that as motivation, this Buford team keeps winning and keeps surprising its doubters. It won every region game on the field and followed it up with four straight playoff wins, the last two tough road tests at Carver-Columbus and Cartersville.

How did the Wolves handle the move to AAA? Just fine. The personnel losses? New standouts have emerged all over the field. How could they possibly handle all that heartache? As well as you could hope.

They had every excuse not to be in this year's state championship game, yet here they are, a win away from some much-needed good news.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.