With two state titles already under their belts, it would have been easy for Georgia signee Kyle Carter and his Columbus (Ga.) High teammates to relax in their senior season. Considering that a handful of them were already signed on to play at Division I schools next year, one might expect this team to lack a sense of urgency. As head coach Bobby Howard explained though, that was never really an option.
"The expectations were high," Howard said. "We were trying to just keep them grounded and challenge them with a really tough schedule and they responded."
That they did. The Blue Devils finished the season 33-4 en route to a third consecutive Georgia 3-A state championship and No. 2 ranking in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll.
Carter added that staying motivated and maintaining that hunger was never an issue for the Blue Devils.
"It was just kind of natural for that team," Carter said.
The 2012 club achieved success with a mix of high profile and lesser-known players.
"Everybody knew we had Carter and (J.T.) Phillips," Howard said. "They were the nucleus of our team. But we had some other outstanding seniors too. Spencer Draws is a three-time .300 hitter and he's going to Air Force. Josh Lester got drafted and he's going to Missouri. So we had two other Division I guys plus our catcher, Pierce Ressmeyer, who led the team in RBIs. And we had an outfield of all seniors. We had eight seniors and a lot of role guys with just outstanding character who showed senior leadership on our club."
Of course, there's nothing quite like social media to drum up controversy and add fuel to the fire.
"It all started with one kid who went to Gainesville," Carter said. "He started running his mouth on Twitter about them being undefeated. And we lost our first game (at the National High School Invitational) in North Carolina to a team from California and we got home and we were reading these tweets and were just motivated by it. As soon as we read that, we just took off."
Preparation for the 2012 season had begun long before that game though. With some wise words from their seasoned head coach the Blue Devils understood how tough the test would be to reclaim the Georgia state title after having done it in 2010 and 2011, especially given the fact that Columbus lost four starters from last year.
"Coach Howard told us, 'it's real hard to be a champion, but it's harder to stay a champion,'" Carter said. "And he said that we were going to have to work extra hard to keep the trophy in Columbus. Since Labor Day we were all in those workouts just grinding together and it paid off for us."
In fact, some might say that the preparation began even farther back than Labor Day. Carter and Columbus teammates J.T. Phillips, Josh Lester and Ryan Lang teamed up in 2006 to win the Little League World Series.
"Kyle came in and was a World Series hero and kind of a middle school all-star and was as good as advertised," Howard said. "He came in with a very humble personality and was willing to work and recognized that high school was a different level. He came in as a freshman and kept a low profile and just went out and did his job… He was just a pleasure to coach. He always put our team first when he was going all over the country and being invited to different showcases."
The success that Carter and others have achieved on the field has inevitably translated into lasting friendships off it.
"It's kind of a relationship where we never can be apart," Carter said about those teammates he has come to know so well. "Me and J.T. have known each other since we were in kindergarten and now we're going to be at college together and be roommates (at Georgia). He's pretty much my brother. There's a bunch of guys like that on that time that I feel the same way about."