GHOLSON — Originally, the village was known as Sardis, at least when the first settlers arrived in 1840. Over the next 20 years, according to the State Handbook of Texas, it gradually took the name Gholson, after brothers Benjamin and Samuel Gholson, another group of early settlers.
For decades, Gholson has subsisted mostly as a farming town. That’s the primary industry for this community, population 959, located about a dozen miles north of Waco off Gholson Road.
But to the people of Gholson’s delight, a new label is emerging. That of football town.
In 2012, Gholson formed a six-man football program for its high school students, opening with a few junior varsity games. They took another step last year, playing six games — again, mostly against six-man JV squads — and actually winning two, a one-win improvement.
Now comes the full-fledged plunge. After two years as an independent, the Wildcats have moved into a UIL district and will play a full 10-game varsity schedule.
A schedule that, for the first time since anyone can remember, will include home games and everything.
“When I’m standing up there in the store, somebody is bound to walk by and say, ‘Coach, football field looks great,’” Gholson coach Keith Beverly said. “They’ll say, ‘Can’t wait until that first game. When’s that first game? I’m going to be there.’ So we’re expecting a capacity crowd, standing room only, I’m sure.”
“A lot of people are looking forward to our games, especially our home games, since it’s our first year to have them,” said sophomore Noah Jewell. “They can’t wait.”
Beverly arrived in Gholson in 2007, when basketball was the only athletic program on campus. He quickly started programs for volleyball, cross country and track, but football took more planning and recruiting.
Beverly, who coached as an 11-man assistant at Troy, Waco High and Connally in the 1980s, said he hasn’t been able to get a clear answer regarding the last time Gholson had fielded a football team. Rumors were that the town had a team in the 1930s. It had been decades for sure.
And when you’re cooking from scratch, you’re likely to experience a few burns along the way. Junior running back D.J. Smith said he was definitely hesitant to come out for football when the program resurfaced in 2012, but some fatherly advice changed his mind.
“My dad was like, ‘You can leave your own legacy here. You can set so many rushing records,’ ” Smith said. “I thought, ‘Yeah, maybe.’ So I started playing.”
The players, 16 strong of them this season, have embraced the challenge. In each of the past two seasons, Beverly had to cancel the team’s first preseason scrimmage for a lack of numbers. This season the scrimmage unfolded as scheduled, as spirits and participation remained high throughout camp.
Even as teenagers with an entire lifetime ahead of them, the players seem to understand the historical significance of what they’re building.
“There are a lot of first things, first times,” Jewell said. “It’s going to be exciting to create those, to put it in the book.”
“It’s like you’re starting your own legacy and your own traditions here,” Smith said.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Gholson’s new football field. The Wildcat players and coaches realize there will be a learning curve, that they may have to take some lumps along the way.
Beverly hadn’t ever coached six-man football prior to two years ago, and said he had to learn the nuances of the game just as much as the players. But he’s a born-again believer in the power of six-man now.
“Oh yeah, it’s an exciting game,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I’ve lost a little bit of appreciation for 11-man. You see the tendency of 11-man football now, you see more and more six-man-type football going on. Seeing a six-man football game, you’re not going to fall asleep.”
One outreach that has stoked gridiron excitement in Gholson was the introduction of some offseason football camps. Mickey Petty, a native of Gholson who lives in Dallas and works with NFL players, helped set up the camps once the football program was revived. This year’s camp in May drew about 70 kids of various ages, and featured ex-NFL players like Donald Driver, Greg Hill and James Cannida.
“So the excitement is there,” Beverly said. “A lot of those kids were ours, but they call from all different places this past year. We had a good turnout the first year (in 2013), but not huge. It’s getting bigger and bigger every year.”
That’s the thing — the players and coaches at Gholson want to show they have staying power. They’re establishing something they hope will last, a football tradition that will bring pride to their town for years to come.
“We want to show everybody in the whole town that we have been trying and working hard, to show them we’re not just here to get whooped on,” Jewell said. “We’re here to play.”