If you had to draw up a play to sum up the 2006 high school football season in Central Texas, the most appropriate choice would be the old backyard favorite.
You know — “everybody go deep.”
In a season in which a record five Central Texas schools played for state championships and a handful of others made deep runs, a pair of schools, Mart and Chilton, hauled in the sweetest catch of all — a state title.
It was indeed a big year for the little Pirates of Chilton, while Mart nailed every challenge that came its way. So it seems only fitting that the two men who presided over those successful runs — Chilton’s Robert Little and Mart’s Rusty Nail — share the Coach of the Year honor on the Tribune-Herald’s 52nd annual Super Centex Football Team.
It’s never easy to win state. It’s probably even more challenging for a first-year head coach. Yet Little and Nail accomplished exactly that — both losing only one game in 16 weeks as rookie head coaches, culminating with victories in the Class 1A and 2A Division II state finals, respectively.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Nail, whose Panthers defeated Cisco, 23-13, to claim the school’s fourth state title. “I was coming back from Louisiana after the holidays and I was kind of thinking about it, and you just sit there and get chills. So many great coaches haven’t even had the opportunity (to win state), and do it the first year out, it’s just incredible.”
At Chilton, ‘hugs and more hugs’
If anyone can comprehend Nail’s emotional high, it’s Little. The Chilton coach said a thousand thoughts and faces sped through his mind in the moments immediately after the Pirates clinched the state title with a 20-10 win over top-ranked Windthorst.
“You think about everything you’ve gone through to get to that point and all the people who have helped along the way and laid the foundation,” he said. “You just want to celebreate. There are hugs and more hugs. It’s just something that you really can’t describe or put into words. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Perhaps the stiffest challenge for Mart and Chilton came when they played each other in the season opener. In that game, the Pirates burst to a 13-0 halftime edge before the Panthers rallied for a 19-13 victory.
As he walked off the field that night, Chilton’s Little had one thought — we’ll be a better team because of tonight.
“In a lot of ways I think it probably helped us that we didn’t win that game,” he said. “I mean, you’d think beating probably the top act, the top program in 2A, would be great. But coming away from that game, I told our coaching staff and our players that Mart is a very good football team, and we went toe to toe with them for four quarters. Coming away from that game, I felt like we were going to be pretty good.”
Ironically, Mart also discovered its inner champion in the midst of its only loss. In Week 2, the Panthers took the field against longtime rival Groesbeck with six of their players sitting in the stands due to a violation of team rules. The Goats nipped the shorthanded Panthers, 35-33, in a wild offensive shootout, but in the process Mart won something greater — an understanding of the team-first mindset.
‘It’s not one person ... ’
“The adversity we faced the week of Groesbeck, with the media coming out and everyone knowing that our two top quarterbacks weren’t going to play, that was the turning point,” Nail said. “We still played hard and had a heartbreaking loss at the end, but those players who didn’t play sat in the stands and realized that it’s not one person who was going to get this done. I think we realized that day that we could be pretty good with or without any one player, and that was the last negative thing that happened to this football team.”
If Nail and Little did anything wrong, they may have made winning state look too easy. The pressure cooker of the head coaching job just inched up a few degrees for 2007, as fans will expect an equally enthralling encore.
Bring it on, say the coaches.
“Yeah, you’re going to have pressure. But that’s part of the nature of the beast when you’re doing this,” Little said. “Coach Nail would probably tell you the same thing. We both fell into some good jobs and some well-established programs and we were able to take them a little bit further than they’d been in the past.
“I don’t take anything away from anybody who had anything to do with this, because this wasn’t a one-man deal. There’s a lot of people who had a lot to do with this, and they deserve just as much of the credit as I do.”
In fact, Nail and Little commented to one another during a photo shoot last week that any of a number of other area head coaches could have been standing in their place. Some of the other local field generals who earned their stripes this year included Valley Mills’ Darrell Piske, Copperas Cove’s Jack Welch, La Vega’s Willie Williams, Robinson’s Brian Lewis and Waco High’s Johnny Tusa, who guided the Lions from a 2-8 record in 2005 to a 12-3 mark and a state final appearance this season.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Lee McClendon, Mart
Nail’s quarterback at Mart, junior Lee McClendon, is not one to hog the glory, so he greeted the news that he’d been named the Trib’s Offensive Player of the Year with typical “aw, shucks” humility. But McClendon’s affinity for sharing is precisely the reason he’s now earning accolades.
Like a kindergarten teacher divvying up the afternoon snack, McClendon made sure all of his teammates got an equal portion of the goodies.
“What made Lee special was his intelligence and his decision-making,” Nail said. “He was very unselfish. Most first-year quarterbacks, if you told them they had a 6-6 receiver who was going to Oklahoma State (Damian Davis) on their team, that’s the first place their eyes would go. But that never happened with Lee. He always hit the open man, whoever it was.”
To McClendon, spreading the wealth wasn’t any big deal, but merely the necessary quotient in the team’s winning formula. “The bottom line isn’t about stats,” McClendon said. “It’s about winning.”
To be sure, McClendon still had some winning statistics, as he finished with 2,846 passing yards and 38 touchdowns to go against only four interceptions. He was a sniper with the football in his hand, zipping darts everywhere and hitting plenty of bull’s eyes.
“His ability to put the ball on the spot was incredible,” Nail said. “He had pinpoint accuracy.”
McClendon is also adept at another kind of needling, as he wages an ongoing teasing war with cousin Roddy Green, a former Super Centex star at Mart who’s now a freshman at the University of Houston.
“I saw him yesterday, and I was kidding him about being Offensive Player of the Year, because he didn’t get that,” McClendon said. “And I can’t wait to show him that state ring when I get it.”
McClendon could join a whole new stratosphere in football-mad Mart if he were to lead the Panthers to another state title in 2007, thus being the first team in school history to repeat.
“People have been coming up, even at church on Sundays, and asking, ‘Are y’all going to get another ring?’ ” McClendon said. “God-willing, we will. But we’re going to enjoy this one for now.”
Defensive Player of the Year: DE Antonio Johnson, Waco High
At 6-foot-1, Waco High’s Antonio Johnson isn’t anywhere close to being the tallest defensive end in the state of Texas. But to opposing quarterbacks, he looked about 11 feet tall.
That’s because they were usually staring up at him from their backs.
Johnson was the pace-setter for a Lion defense that was so fleet it often seemed they were in the backfield before the snap count ended. A bullet in cleats, the senior topped Waco High with 72 tackles — including 36 solo stops — and made 16.5 sacks, for a total of 137 yards in losses. As such, Johnson was an easy choice as the Trib’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“From the opening whistle, Antonio laid the groundwork that he’d be a force to reckon with each and every ball game,” Waco High coach Johnny Tusa said. “With his level of intensity and quickness and athleticism, all those combination of talents, it didn’t take long to realize he was going to be a force.”
It also didn’t take any time for Waco High’s opponents to start rotating multiple blockers into Johnson’s path, in a bid to create some kind of speed bump.
“They started doing that at the end of the season last year,” Johnson said. “I guess they thought they’d get smart and have two people try to block me.”
It didn’t matter. With Johnson surrounded by a horde of equally nasty and ball-hungry teammates, the Lions’ foes fell into a losing game of pick your poison.
“The whole D-line, they all had a part in (my success),” Johnson said. “We all did our jobs, so that if I was taking up two or three blockers, that would free somebody else up, or maybe they’d free it up for me. We all had each other’s back.”
Johnson’s most jaw-dropping effort in a season full of them came in Waco High’s first meeting with Brownwood, when he produced 10 tackles, six sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
“He changed (Brownwood’s) whole game plan,” Tusa said. “They completely changed their approach and started to try to roll away from him, to cut the field in half and try to stay out of his radar.
“But the field’s only so wide and so long,” the coach added with a laugh.
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: QB Mikey Marshall, Itasca
The game plan doesn’t always translate from the blackboard to the field.
Sometimes it’s better.
Itasca’s Mikey Marshall, the Trib’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year, sculpted a masterpiece season that another Mikey — Michaelangelo — would have admired. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound sophomore quarterback passed for 2,228 yards and 21 touchdowns and ran for another 1,104 yards and 10 scores — numbers that even the Itasca coaches couldn’t have imagined.
“We kind of thought we’d start off slow, get him ready for district,” Itasca coach Greg Cranfill said. “But he really exceeded all expectation as far as I’m concerned. We didn’t think he could do as many things as he could do. ... The way he was able to identify and read coverages was amazing. We thought our offense would be one read and run, but by Week 2 he was already making two or three reads.”
Cranfill said that Marshall “still acts like a sophomore” in many respects, but the quarterback’s work ethic rivals that of the most dedicated senior.
“This is a guy I sat down with last off-season and said, ‘Mikey, you’re going to be the quarterback next year, and you’re going to have do the extra things to be ready,’” Cranfill said. “His mother goes out and gets him strength shoes, we got some parachutes, he’s out there running bleachers, he’s up here twice a day all summer long. This kid’s earned everything he’s got.”
Marshall’s versatility opened plenty of doors for the Wampus Cats, all of which led to the end zone. When defenses keyed on Itasca’s potent passing attack, Marshall simply zig-zagged his way to 100-plus rushing yards. And when teams loaded up to stuff the run, Marshall sat back and fired missiles downfield to his receivers Kendale Mayberry and Tralyn Harden.
It’s safe to say that Marshall has altered expectations in Itasca for 2007.
“We expect him to be the same or better next year, and that’s a challenge he’ll take on,” Cranfill said. “He saw how much better he got from his freshman to his sophomore year because of all the little things he did over the off-season.”
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: LB Tanner Brock, Copperas Cove
If the kids’ game of Tackle the Man with the Ball were a varsity sport, Tanner Brock would be atop everyone’s recruiting list.
Copperas Cove’s sophomore linebacker (6-2, 192) fulfilled his mission with expert simplicity. He found the guy carrying the football and put him on the turf, over and over again. Brock made 190 tackles to go along with a sack and a pair of fumble recoveries, earning Trib Defensive Newcomer of the Year recognition.
“You want to know how you find a good linebacker? You find out who’s around the football,” Copperas Cove coach Jack Welch said. “When I was a college coach and I’d have coaches calling me and telling me about their linebackers, I’d ask how many tackles he made. They’d say, ‘Well ...’ and I’d ask, ‘How many tackles did he make in the last 10 plays?’ That’s how you find your linebackers, and Tanner grew into that position early on.”
Tanner is the son of Copperas Cove linebackers coach Reb Brock and the younger brother of senior tight end Logan Brock, so the fieldhouse has always felt like home to him.
“Tanner has the genes of his father, who was a heck of a middle linebacker at Indiana University,” Welch said. “He has that same tenacity as his father. He’s the spitting image.”
Reb Brock doubles as Cove’s strength coach, and Tanner frequently joined his dad in the weight room two hours before school to get faster and stronger.
But though he may continue to build up his muscle, Tanner doesn’t need to fix a thing when it comes to his hustle.
“He’s a ball-hunter,” Welch said. “He plays with tenacity and enthusiasm, and just a real desire to get to the football. Waco’s traditionally had that kind of player, and Tanner is the same kind of guy.”
|Offensive Player of the Year: Lee McClendon, QB, Mart
Defensive Player of the Year: Antonio Johnson, DE, Waco
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Mikey Marshall, QB, Itasca
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Tanner Brock, LB, Copperas Cove
Co-Coaches of the Year: Rusty Nail, Mart and Robert Little, Chilton
|Quarterbacks: Michael Stranacher, Axtell; Randy Barlow, Blooming Grove; Daniel Jones, Bosqueville; Brian Scott, Cameron; Dustin Eskew, China Spring; Robert Griffin, Copperas Cove; Ivan Delgado, Ellison; Aaron Doyle, Evant; Luke Howard, Gatesville; Justin Bell, Hamilton; Lloyd Turner, Hearne; Charles Hitchens, Marlin; Joe Seward, McGregor; Jared Ray, Midway; Ricky Brenek, Rogers; Quentin Coleman, Teague; Travis Curlee, Valley Mills; Bryan Smith, Waco
Running backs: Miles Adanandus, Bosqueville; Rickie Williams, Bremond; Chris Cobb, Connally; Jeremy Spain, Covington; Antonio Moore and Travis Miller, Marlin; Qualin Brown, McGregor; Tony Allen, Meridian; R.J. Ledford, Rogers; Cordell Colbert, Rosebud-Lott; James Green, Teague; B.K. Dugas, Bronshae’Keon Dugas and Charles Silmon, Waco; Chad Bettge, West
Receivers: Joe Coleman, Blooming Grove; Cordrick Mobley, Cameron; Mike Hicks, Ryan MacGibbon and Eric Kersey, China Spring; Rashad Hawk, Copperas Cove; Dixon Dewald, Evant; Patrick Edwards and Jamie Smith, Hearne; Tralyn Harden, Itasca; Coryell Judie, Marlin; Nic Clark, McGregor; Matt Davis and Todd Glaesmann, Midway; Ronald Horne, Waco
Tight ends: Bobby Martin, China Spring; Logan Brock, Copperas Cove; Forrest Rucker, Hearne; Ethan Marek, Rosebud-Lott
Offensive linemen: Bryan McNamara and Seth McGurgan, Bosqueville; Wade McCullin, Cameron; Raul Mora, Victor Flores, Rodney London and Alex Cacho, Chilton; Mike Ugolini and James Brown, China Spring; Tyler Arp, McGregor; Ryan Ford, Midway; Barrett Wheeler, Reicher; Taylor Groves, Robinson; Dallas Butts, Salado; James Solley, Teague; Trey Vannatta, Valley Mills
Kickers/punters: Cap Perry, Bosqueville; Grayson Buster, Crawford; Chris Dodd, McGregor; Ben Naecker, Rogers; Cameron Curry, Waco
Return specialists: Daniel Cobb, Ellison; Phillip Gibson, Groesbeck
Defensive linemen: Chris Freeman, Axtell; Clinton Johnson, Bosqueville; Lindy Wood and Wes Benfer, Clifton; Steven Welch, Copperas Cove; Jeff Calvillo, Crawford; Dominique Robinson, Ellison; Ramon Costilla, Groesbeck; Darreus Bell, Hearne; Lamar Crawford, Itasca; Tony Owens, Marlin; Thomas Kaylor, McGregor; Weston Sammon, Riesel; Ethan Williams, Salado; Carson Williams and Josh Murphree, Valley Mills; Gary House, Waco; Chris Jones, West
Linebackers: Cory Tucker, Axtell; Chris Boen, Bosqueville; Michael Martinez and Jason Drymalla, Bremond; Alex Wright, Cameron; Bryan Childers, Chilton; Chandler Cruse and Toby Williams, China Spring; Logan Poston, Clifton; Terence Whitaker, Connally; Jerad Hinson, Crawford; Caesar Cobb, Ellison; Billy McMillian, Fairfield; Stephen Fonseca, Marvin Craven and Terrance Boxley, Hearne; Michael Bigelow, La Vega; Heston Adler, Mart; Wade Smith, Meridian; Nathan Petter, Reicher; Dylan Tanner, Stephen Butcher, Colby Boyd and Jeff Linberg, Riesel; Justin Konzen, Salado; Landon Winn, Valley Mills; Zack Barr, Whitney
Defensive backs: Arthur Weaver and Cody Wickman, Bosqueville; Mario Goins, Copperas Cove; Erik Sykes, La Vega; Greg Jones, McGregor; Germaine Gilbert, Midway; Daniel Cope and Justin Mabile, Riesel; Matt Fritsch, Salado; Terrance Adkism, Waco