Editor’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series offering unique insight into the Stephenville-Aledo football rivalry. Parts 3-5 will be published in the Wednesday-Friday editions of the Empire-Tribune.
Kathy Slemmons says she was sick.
“I was physically ill,” she says.
Rudy Avalos was crushed.
“It was sad,” he said. “Bad sad.”
Slemmons, the mother of linebacker Jared Slemmons, and Avalos, the father of cornerback Reilly Avalos, had just watched Stephenville fall to Aledo 26-23 in overtime of an area-round playoff game at Cowboys Stadium.
Aledo went on to win state.
Stephenville went home.
“It was a real hard letdown,” Slemmons said.
Avalos said the emotion was flowing all the way home from Arlington.
“It was a teary, very quiet ride home,” he said. “You’re going through the last play of the game in your mind. Then you’re trying to visualize in your head how we got there and what we could have done to prevent it. We were one play from winning that game. One play.”
The win was Aledo’s third straight against the Yellow Jackets, with all three coming down to the closing moments or overtime. It was 24-20 in the 2008 season opener in Stephenville and 20-16 in the 2009 opener in Aledo. Add the three-point margin of last November’s thriller and you get a total of 11 points separating the two teams over three games. The Jackets saw second-half leads slip away each time.
“Jared, Dominick (Jokel) and Reilly are the only seniors who played against Aledo (as varsity players) when they were sophomores,” she said. “We’ve never beat them. We want to beat them so bad it hurts.”
As soon as Slemmons and Avalos saw that Aledo was scheduled for the season opener, similar thoughts went through each parent’s head.
“I said, ‘Alright man, we got em!’” Avalos said. “Aledo, first game, what a way to start. What a way for Texas to start (football season) off, with Stephenville-Aledo again. The atmosphere, the environment, all the bells and whistles that come with it. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”
“I love starting with Aledo. I like competition. If you want to know how good you are, you have to play against great competition,” Slemmons said. “Playing Aledo is always like a playoff atmosphere. It’s two of the best teams in the state and it’s a great rivalry. It’s two great schools with good athletes. I think it’s a positive rivalry for both schools.”
Both parents believe they will be more nervous than their sons Friday.
“Jared is a calm guy, he doesn’t really get too carried away,” Kathy said. “He stays calm for the most part.”
Same for Reilly.
“Reilly’s very quiet, and when he puts the helmet on it’s all business,” Rudy said.
But the parents - each in their own way - are as nervous as could be.
“Terry (her husband) and I are frantic,” Slemmons said. “We’re the crazy football parents, and we are a nervous wreck at games, especially when we’re playing Aledo.”
Slemmons says she always feels sorry for those sitting close to her at games.
“We’re always on our feet screaming, the whole time,” she said. “I’m just a nervous wreck.”
The Avalos’ are more the quiet type - but that doesn’t mean there aren’t nerves involved.
“We put our headphones on and are totally focused on the field, and that starts the second the boys come out for warmups,” Avalos said. “We sit close to the Slemmons. I like to watch them sometimes because they’re fun, but mostly, I’m totally focused on the game.”
Avalos says the Aledo rivalry has reached the level of Stephenville’s long rivalry with Brownwood, possibly even exceeding it.
“The Aledo game for us is just like Brownwood,” he said. “It’s a big, big game.”
But he knows Friday’s opener likely won’t be the last time the Jackets and Bearcats meet this year.
“We try to keep it in perspective,” he said. “This game isn’t the end of the world, it’s just the start. Regardless of what happens, we’ll be going through Aledo again (in the playoffs). At my house, we all have no doubt we’ll be playing them twice this year.”
Both admit games - especially against teams such as Aledo - will be more intense than ever this fall because their sons are seniors.
“This week has been like a double-whammy for me,” Slemmons said. “Jared started his senior year (Monday), and he plays Aledo Friday. This is his last year, his last opportunity to play. I just want it so bad for him.”
Avalos knows exactly how she feels.
“Last year I knew we had another year. It was so tough to lose, but we knew at least we had one more year, one more year to to go out and beat those guys. Now, every game is a big game because we know we’re one step closer to the end for Reilly. We’re counting on 16 more games. It’s huge for the whole family.”
Avalos says he’s the type of fan who beats the buses to the games, and Friday he and his wife will arrive in the Bearcat Stadium parking lot extra early to tailgate with with the Slemmons’, the Vanden Berges, parents of senior center D.J. Vanden Berge, and the Melvins, parents of senior tackle Austin Melvin.
Friday night will start early for some of Stephenville’s biggest fans, and they already have a bold prediction concerning how it will end.
“We’re definitely going to win,” Slemmons said. “All the hard work (in the off-season) is going to pay off.”
Avalos couldn’t possibly agree more.
“When it’s all said and done,” he said, “Stephenville is going to come out on top.”