Joe Medley: Saks had quite a ride, and Miller, Dennard had a ride within a ride
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Nov 30, 2013 | 3154 views |  0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Saks head coach Jonathan Miller before the state semifinals. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Saks head coach Jonathan Miller before the state semifinals. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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SAKS -- A teething 10-month-old, if not missed scoring opportunities, likely kept Jonathan Miller up Friday night, after Saks’ state-semifinal loss.

Perhaps senior Corpio Dennard lay awake and thought about what he could have done to help his team and classmates in those situations, if physically able to play football.

Then again, Dennard, two years removed from breaking his neck in a football game, has basketball and baseball seasons in red and white ahead, and every chance for a normal life.

He and Miller, Saks’ second-year head coach, just saw their team tie the school record with 13 victories and become the first Saks team to post a 10-0 regular season.

Oh, and about Miller’s teething 10-month-old?

“The good thing about Knox,” Miller said about his son, “is when I walk in the door at night, he always greets me with a big smile.”

The third-ranked Wildcats could probably use a smile after their 31-21 loss to top-ranked Madison Academy on Friday.

It was a game that saw Saks find scoring position time after time, only to come up without points.

There was the fourth-and-goal play at the Madison Academy 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, a play the Wildcats ran twice. The first time, Saks’ Davontae Young recovered teammate Tre Smith’s fumble in the end zone, only to learn officials had blown an inadvertent whistle.

The second time, Smith was stopped with a chance for Saks to take a 21-17 lead.

It was all part of the agony that is a playoff loss. In a state with six classifications, only six teams end their seasons hoisting the champion’s trophy, and Saks came one victory away from its third crack at the state finals and first since 1996.

For 13 victories, however, it was quite a ride, and Miller and Dennard had quite a ride within the ride.

Rewind to Thursday before Saks’ second-round victory over Lauderdale County, and there’s a drag in Miller’s voice. To hear the drag and his obvious concerns about the next opponent, you’d think it’s not looking good for the Wildcats.

Nope. Miller was just dog-tired. Knox had been teething, and, well, parents know that means up-and-down nights.

Such nights have been common through the greatest run of Miller’s young coaching career. Through the combination of 12-hour days at school and up-and-down nights, he estimates he’s averaged about five hours of sleep a night.

“We go through practice, do whatever else needs to be done after practice -- ice, kids, plan practice, watch film, whatever we need to do,” Miller said. “Then just go home at 7 o’clock and help out with our little one, feed him, get him ready for bed and all of that.

“We sit down about 8:30, 9 o’clock after night, after he’s asleep.”

Dennard’s journey through Saks’ run involved participating any way he could, which included signaling in plays from the sideline. He was at practice most days.

When the former wide receiver/H-back and cornerback broke his neck in a game against J.B. Pennington in 2011 --- and wanted to go back into the game because he didn’t know how seriously he was injured --- he hoped to be back on the football field for Saks one day.

Miller, who was Saks’ defensive coordinator at the time, said a healthy Dennard would have had an impact this season.

“Goodness, he would have been really, really good,” Miller said. “Corpio got hurt as a sophomore, and he was, at the time, maybe our best skill player.

“To put him around Tre (Smith) and Devin (Harris) and Davontae and Darion (Coleman) and all of these guys, would have just given us another weapon. He would have been the fastest player on our team and also would have helped us on defense.”

That day never came for Dennard.

His strong neck muscles miraculously held things in place and, with surgery, he recovered. He has played other sports.

But football was just too risky, so the senior watched from the sideline as his classmates made history.

“It hurts a lot, and I think about it almost every game,” he said. “But I just think about, God did this for a reason, and I’m just waiting to see what he’s got for me to do the rest of my life.”

Dennard is part of a senior class that Miller said “will definitely be missed.”

“They’ve definitely made their mark on Saks High School and the football program,” Miller said.

It’s hard to argue. Over the past four seasons, Saks has gone 32-13 with three consecutive playoff berths and this season’s Class 3A, Region 5 title.

“From day one in the weight room, the team came out and did their thing,” Dennard said. “From day one and game one, everybody came out and accomplished a lot of goals.”

That includes two playoff victories three hours away in West Alabama, including the quarterfinal victory at Colbert County a week ago. After that game, Miller got to celebrate while holding his son.

“Regardless of what’s happened during the day or during school or football or whatever,” Miller said, “having home to come home to has made this season special, too.”

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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