Written by Corbett Smith
Dallas area programs looking to restore tradition, return to glory days
Expectations are a funny thing.
After he came to Ennis in January 2011, coach Jack Alvarez believed he’d be rebuilding a program that had lost its luster. Alvarez was coming off a successful stint at Class 2A Kirbyville, going to back-to-back title games in 2008 and 2009. Ennis, on the other hand, missed the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 after three Class 4A titles in the early 2000s.
But the kids and community hadn’t gotten the same message.
“In spring ball, they broke out of a huddle with a chant — 1, 2, 3, state champions!” Alvarez said. “I was like, ‘Hold on, you were 2-8 last year.’ But that’s just this community. They feel like they always are going to be competing for titles.”
While talent, coaching and facilities are all critical aspects of what makes a successful program, a championship mind-set might be just as crucial for deep playoff runs.
That attitude is a common thread for those who’ve won state titles in the past and are still trying to recapture their glory days in this year’s UIL playoffs:
Last trip to the semifinals: 2012
Last state title: 2006 (5A Division II)
Before becoming a head coach, Cedar Hill’s Joey McGuire was picking an older coach’s brain on how programs such as Highland Park or Southlake Carroll become elite. “He told me something that sticks with me to this day,” McGuire said. “They expect to win. When they going into a game, it’s not them hoping to win, wishing, wanting to win.” When he finally got his title in 2006, McGuire said he remembered being asked by Fox Sports’ Emily Jones about the expectations that come with a title. “I told her the truth: I’ve been waiting for this. I want to be known as that type of program.” Cedar Hill (11-2) has made it at least two rounds deep since 2006, and is in the mix for the title despite graduating three FBS skill players.
Last trip to semifinals: 2004
Last state title: 2004 (4A Division I)
As soon as Alvarez got a grasp of the situation, he knew that Ennis (13-0) wouldn’t be down long. The question, though, was whether Alvarez would be given enough time — he finished 3-7 in 2011 — to bring in his offensive game plan. Alvarez’s run-heavy Slot T is a far cry from former coach Sam Harrell’s legendary spread attack. “I respect [the Ennis community] for giving me a chance — and to not judge me until they saw the products on the field. With 1,000-yard rushers Terence Williams and Nick Gabriel, in addition to dual-threat quarterback Devin Smith, Ennis is reaping the benefit of a little patience.
Last trip to the semifinals: 2010
Last state title: 2003 (4A Division II)
Arriving from Class 2A Cooper in February 2000, Ryan coach Joey Florence wasn’t certain whether he made the right decision to come to the struggling 4A program — which finished 1-9 in 1999. The answer has been made evident by Florence’s success. One of the best motivators in the area, Florence has led his program to a 39-11 playoff record in 14 seasons. Last week, Ryan (10-2) rallied from a 31-point first-half deficit to beat Keller Fossil Ridge, 42-37. “Our coaches never let us doubt ourselves,” Ryan quarterback Mitchell Bridges told the Denton Record-Chronicle after the game. “They build us up, even if we’re doing awful. We turned it around and made good adjustments at halftime.”
Last trip to the semifinals: 2010
Last state title: 2009 (5A Division I)
It’s not about dusting off the old trophies for Trinity (11-2) — fresh off its first-ever win over Southlake Carroll. Under coach Steve Lineweaver, Trinity has established itself as a perennial power — in the mix every season. Lineweaver said he likes to keep talk about “legacy” off the table as much as he can. “Our kids play with a little more sense of urgency in the playoffs — but it’s because they like to play as much as they can,” Lineweaver said. “But as coaches, it something that we eventually have to talk about. All the kids are hearing about it from their families, classmates. It’s hard to avoid that.”
Last trip to the semifinals: 2007
Last state title: 2005 (4A Division II)
Highland Park (12-1) has been the model for football success since the inception of the UIL. It’s the state’s winningest program, led by a coach with 330 career wins. “When kids grow up watching the older guys make plays and win close games, it creates an expectation that if they can do it, we can do it,” coach Randy Allen said before the start of this season. Brooks Burgin, a junior quarterback who watched two older brothers play the same position at Highland Park, embodies that ingrained attitude. He has thrown for 3,110 yards and 30 scores and rushed for 18 touchdowns, leading the school past the third round for the first time since 2007.
Last trip to semifinals: 2010
Last state title: 1977 (2A)
A year after taking the reins, Wylie coach Bill Howard saw a bright future for his program. Wylie was growing, had plenty of talent in the junior high and sub-varsity ranks, and harbored state-title aspirations. “In 2007, I was thinking we were going to be the next Allen,” Howard said. A decision in spring 2008 to create Wylie East, splitting the town into two smaller programs, upended such lofty goals. But that didn’t mean that Howard or his program resigned themselves to mediocrity. “We never lowered our expectations of what the Wylie Pirates would be,” Howard said. “You just got to rely on tradition and work ethic, and keep the kids focused on working toward a common goal.”
Follow Corbett Smith on Twitter at @corbettsmithDMN.