It's been a topsy-turvy year for the Winston Academy football team.
As the Patriots get ready to entertain Starkville Academy on Friday night in a 7 p.m. game at Louisville, they'll continue to deal with the growing pains that have come courtesy of losing 14 starters from last year's squad.
"We've had some highs and we've had some lows this year," said Winston Academy head coach Harold Wisdom. "We've overcome some adversity and we've had some adversity overcome us.
"We're playing with a lot of young guys and those guys, the only way they can learn is to be thrown in the fire and hold on for the ride. We feel like those young guys are now starting to turn the curve and really contribute to our team."
Battling through the downfalls of inexperience, the Patriots still boast a winning record this season. Winston Academy currently sits at 4-3 overall in 2011 with wins over Sylva Bay Academy, Oak Hill Academy, Canton Academy and Wayne Academy.
The Patriots' losses have come against Lamar, Manchester Academy and Simpson Academy.
"We're extremely young and have taken our bumps and bruises, but we've been in every ballgame with the exception of one," said Wisdom. "We've just got to continue on continuing on."
At least for this week, Wisdom and the Patriots may be forced to carry on without the services of standout senior quarterback Tyler Sullivan.
Sullivan, who passed for 2,965 yards and 28 touchdowns while running for 547 yards and 13 more scores a season ago, sustained a knee injury against Simpson Academy on Sept. 30 and has about a "50-50" chance of being able to play against Starkville Academy according to Wisdom.
"He's got some ligament damage and we just don't know if we're willing to play him against Starkville with it not being a conference game and our last two games of the year being conference games," said Wisdom. "I know it's a rivalry with Starkville and it's a pride thing with bragging rights, but in the bigger picture, it doesn't really mean anything so it'll be a game-time decision (whether Sullivan will play)."
If Sullivan doesn't see action in Friday's contest, Wisdom says his team will still find a way to compete toe-to-toe with the Volunteers.
"As (Sullivan) goes, we go," said Wisdom. "But we've got a back-up plan, so we'll do some things outside of our comfort zone just to give us a chance to be successful."
In Wisdom's eyes, the judgment of how productive Friday night's game is can't solely be measured on the contest's result.
Instead, Wisdom will deem the game as a success or a failure based on how much his youthful Patriots learn.
"Win or lose, we preach to our kids to just show up to the fight," said Wisdom. "I tell my kids all the time that after the game, one of two things should be coming out of the opponent's mouth – either 'we don't want to play those guys again because they play so hard that we might not come out with a victory next time' or 'those guys played so hard they whooped our butt.'
"This is going to be a playoff-type environment against a playoff-caliber team. All it's going to do is prepare us for the future."