That has been pretty much the case for the Mustangs as they begin the second half of the gridiron campaign.
With a 1-5 overall record and 0-2 mark in Region 5A, Mount Vernon has certainly taken its share of lumps as it navigated through a tough early schedule that featured a number of state playoff contenders — including Landmark Christian, ranked second in last week’s Georgia Sports Writers Association Class A state poll.
Nevertheless, Zimmerman is encouraged by the progress that his team — mostly made up of freshmen — has made over the course of the season’s first half.
“I feel really good about our progress so far,” Zimmerman said. “We knew what we were getting into when [he and his coaching staff] came here. This is a very, very tough schedule for a growing program. We play five or six teams who are going to make the state playoffs this year, so that’s a difficult thing when you’re growing a team.
“But we love the way our seniors are playing and we got six of them who are doing a great job for us. We have very few juniors or sophomores and most of our team is really made up of freshmen. So we really like how those young guys have responded.”
The Mustangs face their biggest test yet when they host defending Class A private school state champion Eagle’s Landing Christian Friday at 7:30 p.m.
For Zimmerman, facing such tough competition is an important part of the learning experience for his young team.
“Our biggest challenge is realizing that we can play with these guys,” he said. “Each time we go out there and we come off the field and everybody is still healthy and you go out there and the guy hits you as hard as he could and you get back up — that builds more confidence in these guys.”
Senior running back Jibri Hicks has been a bright spot for the Mustangs, rushing for 160 yards in the loss to Landmark.
Senior linebacker Andrew Dobbins has been another key veteran performer, while freshman wide receiver/linebacker Marquez Bembry and freshman defensive lineman William White have been among the Mustangs’ more promising younger players.
Now, Mount Vernon faces the unenviable task of playing an Eagle’s Landing Christian team — the top-ranked squad in Class A — that has scored an average of 39 points a game and has given up only 6 per contest.
“ELCA is the best team in the state until you get to Buford in AAA,” Zimmerman said. “They’re talented, they’re large, they’re a community that has bought into playing ball. So we really tell our guys to prepare for the learning experience. They weren’t always great. They had to go through the same experiences that our young guys are having to go through. This is kind of a rite of passage and through that rite of passage, we’re going to gain experience and learn what it takes to be a championship program at any level.”