It’s been the focus since June.
The foundation was already there after Connally advanced to the playoffs last season. And as far as the 2017 was concerned, the Cadets weren’t worried about the nondistrict part of their schedule. Instead, they already had their eyes on the prize.
“We talked to the kids about those first five ball games and the fact that they have no bearing on us as far as making the playoffs and winning a district championship, practicing on Thanksgiving day and playing in December,” Connally coach Shane Anderson said. “Our senior class has bought into it. The whole team has bought into it.
“We have a young football team and we knew we were going to take some lumps early. They’ve handled it well. I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
Connally went 1-4 through that nondistrict slate, dropping contests against Gatesville (38-14), Glen Rose (30-16), Royse City (23-8) and La Vega (42-2) before winning 20-14 over Franklin.
In those first two games, the Cadets didn’t play well early but improved dramatically in the second half. Against Royse City, Connally started strong but didn’t finish. The Cadets just needed to put four quarters together.
They did so in the win over Franklin before facing “a different animal” against state-ranked La Vega.
“We knew that our defense was starting to get better and that our offense was making strides,” Anderson said. “It was just a lot of inexperience on the field. … I think you’re going to learn from experiences. We’ve had some, each and every one of them have made mistakes. Each and every one of them have made good plays. We’ve had some really proud moments as a team.
“We’ve had some really embarrassing moments as a team. I think we’ve learned from it.”
These young Cadets have grown up. If there’s any question as to whether the Connally players truly bought into Anderson’s message back in June, check the scoreboard.
When game week rolled around for the district opener against Robinson, the motto for the week was 1-0.
“We knew it was very, very important to get off on the right foot and get to 1-0 in district and be on that side of things instead of 0-1,” Anderson said. “Our kids did a great job of going out there and executing. That’s the whole deal is executing and taking care of the football. That’s something that we struggled with early on. A lot of these kids were playing freshman and JV football last year. It’s just a different game.
“You get those lights turned on on Friday nights and the crowd is a bigger atmosphere, it takes some time. That’s when it all clicked, and it just happened to be that first district ball game. I felt like it happened at a good time.”
Defensively, the Cadets won the turnover battle 4-1, while sophomore running back Javion Sunday rushed for 280 yards and four touchdowns as the Cadets topped the Rockets 38-17.
“We knew what (Sunday) was capable of,” Anderson said. “It was just when he would break out of his shell and turn it loose.”
A week later, the Cadets were in an 8-0 hole at the half. Connally’s defense came out in the third quarter to produce a safety before a pair of touchdowns sealed the win for the Cadets.
“We had some adversity last week early,” Anderson said. “We turned the ball over and gave up a safety. Offense was struggling. Mexia did a great job. They had a great defensive game plan. It took us a little bit to figure it out. Our team was patient with us and with each other. They were positive.
“That’s just another step toward our goal of making the playoffs and being district champions. We have to take steps each and every week. We’ll see what steps we take Friday night.”
This week, Connally takes on the only other 2-0 team in District 9-4A Div. II – Fairfield. And the motto for this week is team.
“We talk to the kid about it’s not going to be the best quarterback that wins. It’s not going to be the best offensive line or defensive line or linebacking corps or secondary or who has the best kicker,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be who has the best team gets to 3-0. I’ve emphasized that every day this week. It’s going to be a team effort. We’re going to have to ride the roller coaster together, handle the ups and handle the downs and be consistent and make more plays than they do.”