Must Win

A Season of Survival for a Town and Its Team

Drew Jubera

St. Martin's Griffin

Nestled amid cotton, pine, and swamps, the Deep South outpost of Valdosta, Georgia, has long drawn pilgrims from across the country to the home of the Wildcats, the winningest high school football team in America. Christened by national media as “Title Town, USA,” Valdosta has thrived on the continuity of dominance: sons still play in front of fathers and grandfathers, creased men in pickups still offer steak dinners as a reward for gridiron glory, and Friday nights in the 11,000-seat stadium known as Death Valley still hold a central role in the town’s social fabric.


Now that place is in peril. As much as Valdosta is a romantic symbol of traditional American values, things are changing here just as they are in small towns everywhere. In Must Win, author Drew Jubera goes inside the country’s most famous high school football team to chronicle its dramatic 2010 season, a quest by a program that’s down but not out to regain past glory for both the team and the town it represents. This town, this school, and these people have been rocked by forces that have hit the entire country, but they’re a long way from giving up. They still believe in the power of a game to overcome all.


With a new coach, a new optimism, and a kaleidoscopic cast that includes an aspiring rapper, a beekeeper’s son, the best athlete in the state, and the heir to a pro legacy cut short by a crack dealer’s bullet, these Wildcats have been given one more chance. Must Win is the American story written across a bright green playing field.


Praise for Must Win

**Named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2013 by Booklist**

**Named a Top 10 Book of 2012 by Paste magazine and Atlanta magazine**


“The ‘winningest’ sports bio of 2012.” —accessAtlanta.com


“Filled with insights . . . Skillfully reported and written with style.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Drew Jubera's Must Win is an elegiac and riveting look inside the myth-making factory of small-town high school football, and a meditation on the strange power of sports to give meaning to our lives." —Warren St. John, New York Times bestselling author of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer and Outcasts United

“Jubera unspools a sophisticated saga of a comeback season for storied Valdosta High School . . . He captures the slang and race relations and home-town hopes better than any writer since H.G. Bissinger got it so right with Friday Night Lights. Jubera’s eye for detail, ear for dialogue, and heart for young hopes delivers a helmet-to-helmet blow.”

Paste magazine, “Our Favorite Books of 2012”


“The depth of detail and craftsmanship of a gifted writer at his peak . . . You don’t have to know a tight end from a Hail Mary to appreciate this book. On virtually every page, there is a reason to stop, to reread, and to marvel. This is a book worth cheering about.”

Atlanta magazine


Must Win—must read!” —Jeff D’Alessio, SportingNews


“I can think of very few books about high school football that I would lay in the hands of anyone, from a fruit vendor in Delhi to a grandma in Des Moines. In fact, maybe only one: this one.” —Gary Smith, Sports Illustrated


“The best nonfiction book I have read since the year 2000 . . . Jubera superbly captures it all—the town, the characters, the motivations, the dreams, the follies. [He] offers a book about all of us, football fan or not. It’s a book about what we try to achieve in the small town filled with big dreams inside every human heart.”

—Charles McNair, Paste Magazine


Must Win is the inspiring tale of how a coach with a grand vision and even bigger heart plucked his players out of jail and off the farm and made them believe they were champions as they returned Valdosta to its rightful place as one of the most storied programs in high school football. Jubera knows South Georgia and makes you feel the gnats buzzing around your head, the barbecue on your lips, and buy into a community where Friday night football is much more than a religion—it’s a passport to heaven."

—Joe Drape, author of The New York Times bestseller Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen


"Football is riddled with hype, hypocrisy, and greed on both the college and pro levels. But in Valdosta, Georgia, the game is about life, and that is what Drew Jubera so expertly and eloquently writes about. I love a story that digs into your soul. This is not necessarily a sports book. It is a character-driven tale of survival and the desire to be a champion again."

—Jim Dent, author of Courage Beyond The Game and Twelve Mighty Orphans


"Drew Jubera’s Must Win is a must-read, a book that not only makes good on the promise of its title, but makes its title come blazingly alive. You start reading it because you want to know how a team from a small town in South Georgia—the Valdosta Wildcats—became the greatest and most storied team in the history of American high school football. But Jubera is a writer who can go deep, and the story he’s telling is the story of how even winners can become underdogs in post-crash America, and how even underdogs can find a way to beat the odds and win again."

—Tom Junod, Esquire

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Drew Jubera

  • DREW JUBERA is an award-winning journalist who has written for The New York Times, ESPN The Magazine, Esquire, Texas Monthly, and many others. He covered the South as a national desk reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He lives with his family in Atlanta.

  • Drew Jubera © 2012 Ellis Vener
    Drew Jubera


Available Formats and Book Details

Must Win

A Season of Survival for a Town and Its Team

Drew Jubera



St. Martin's Griffin