Written by Michael Florek
After three-year hiatus from playoffs, Ennis is undefeated and rolling
ENNIS — Running back Terence Williams tried to play it cool when talking after Ennis’ practice Monday.
After a three-year postseason drought, the Lions are 8-0 and have clinched a playoff spot. A win over Lancaster on Friday clinches the District 15-4A title. Did he really expect to be undefeated at this point in the season?
Williams started to answer calmly. Then burst into laughter.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Williams said. “I thought we were going to lose at least one.”
The laughs weren’t coming so easily a year ago. Ennis coach Jack Alvarez was in his first year after spending 11 seasons at Kirbyville. Alvarez had taken over a team that went 2-8 under interim coach Steve Marrow after longtime Ennis coach Sam Harrell retired because of multiple sclerosis.
“The talent level was down a little bit,” Alvarez said. “I think pretty much everybody realized that.”
Alvarez brought a new defensive scheme and a more run-based, under-center offense to a school that rode Harrell’s spread passing attack to a 153-51 record over 16 years and three state championships (2000, 2001, 2004). Alvarez went 3-7.
Rifts developed among the team. Quarterback Brandon Adams said five players quit. All contributed significantly.
Alvarez and Ennis athletic director Bill Cox chuckled when asked about it. Alvarez said he never felt pressure, preferring to call it “a challenging situation because of all the success they had.”
“There were a lot of people that liked what we were doing,” Cox said. “I think there was a lot of pressure on [Alvarez], especially when he was trying to change things.”
But as the 2011 season continued, the team got more comfortable, almost upsetting rival Waxahachie, which finished 9-3, in the second-to-last game.
In the off-season, Alvarez saw a jump in participation in workouts. A core group of upperclassmen came every day. With their leadership, the team finally bought in to the new system.
“We got rid of the kids that didn’t want to commit to the team,” Adams said. “Everybody here now commits to the team, makes it to practice. Nobody’s failing, nobody’s walking off.”
Williams has rushed for 974 yards and 14 touchdowns. Adams has thrown for 874 yards and has 12 touchdowns with three interceptions. The offense is averaging nearly 42 points per game.
Linebacker Malik Jenkins has led a defense that’s giving up 20 less yards per game and four less points per game this season.
The talent is returning. Jenkins is committed to Washington State. All of Ennis’ sub-varsity teams were undefeated before last weekend. Cox said the younger kids are better suited to run Alvarez’s system than the spread.
Some of those who opted not to renew their season tickets are returning to Cox to ask if they’re still available.
Beating Lancaster — a 7-1 team that was ranked No. 2 in the state before falling to Red Oak last week — clinches a district title, setting Ennis up for a deep playoff run.
After three years, the Lions are returning to their old prominence. All it took was changing everything.
Follow Michael Florek on Twitter at @michaelflorek
Lions roaring again
Ennis’ year-by-year record since 2000:
4A-II state champs
4A-II state champs
4A-II state semis
4A-I state champs
4A-I state quarters
Lost in bi-dstrict
Lost in area round