Eric Holland took over the Tift County program five years ago, when this year's team's seniors were in the 8th grade.
That year, they won the 8th grade championship in a close game over Coffee. Afterwards, Holland gave them the postgame speech.
"I remember telling them, 'You guys are going to be the group that's going to hoist that silver Georgia high school trophy.' I told them that when they were in the 8th grade," he says. "They have an opportunity to do exactly what I told them they were going to do five years ago."
The Blue Devils can make Holland's prophecy come true Saturday night when they play for the GHSA AAAAAA state championship.
"We're excited about it," Holland says. "We feel really good about our chances to win on Saturday."
"We've been through a lot. We've been working hard," says senior guard DJ Bryant. "We've played a lot of games, and this has been the goal the whole season."
Despite all their success on the court over the past three decades, the Devils only have one state title to show for it.
They won that one in 1996.
Since then, the program has seen region titles, state playoff runs, even a state title appearance in 2004.
But they haven't won the championship since.
"This Saturday, we'll give this community the opportunity to say we've got two state championships," Holland says.
In the semis, Tift beat state power Norcross 78-70 to advance to Saturday's title game.
Star guard Tadric Jackson's 39 points were a big factor, but Holland also credits the win to being used to the big stage.
"We didn't get too big-eyed," he says. "We were very comfortable in that environment."
That's exactly what Holland wanted when he put together what he believes is the toughest schedule in Georgia.
"We've been on the biggest stages. We've been at Philips Arena. We flew out to Boston. We played at City of Palms, and had our own tournament here," he notes. "We've been there. We've played the big boys. We've seen how they look, seen how they compete, and I think we're ready."
The Blue Devils take on Wheeler Saturday night for the GHSA AAAAAA state championship at the Macon Centreplex. Tip off is scheduled for 8:45 p.m.
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