When the Stephenville Yellow Jackets run onto the Tarleton Memorial Stadium turf tonight, they will do it as the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A for the first time in eight years.
The Jackets (6-0, 3-0) host Cleburne (4-2, 1-2) at 7 p.m. in a District 8-4A match-up. Stephenville is looking to keep pace with Everman and Crowley by remaining undefeated in disrict play. Cleburne, meanwhile, is basically playing for its playoff life, as 8-4A's other Yellow Jackets have dropped two of their first three league contests.
Stephenville Head Coach Chad Morris said the Jackets new status atop the state poll hasn't changed preparations at all.
“I really haven't talked to the kids about it, and I haven't heard them talk about it,” Morris said. “The bottom line is we know the potential is there. But the season doesn't end just because we're ranked No. 1. We still have to play it out.”
Morris is confident that the Jackets are more focused this week than they were as the No. 2 team in the poll heading into their 64-11 win over Joshua last week.
“We've had a great week,” he said. “We're certainly a lot more focused than last week.”
Morris, the first Stephenville coach other than Art Briles to lead the Jackets to a No. 1 ranking, is more concerned with his team's play than what Cleburne will do in attempt to offset it.
“We have to worry about our Yellow Jackets and not their Yellow Jackets,” he said.
Morris said he was surprised to see Cleburne get shut out 21-0 by Crowley last week.
“That kind of surprised me,” he said. “I had picked Cleburne to win.”
Like Jekyll and Hyde, the same Cleburne team gave state-ranked Everman all it could handle in week one of district action before falling 35-20.
Morris believes Cleburne is much improved from last year, saying, “They have some talented, skilled kids. They start four sophomores, so they're fairly young. They are definitely on the right track.”
Morris referred to senior wide receiver Desean Thomas as Cleburne's go-to-guy. Thomas has hauled in 24 receptions for 437 yards and four touchdowns. He also praised sophomore Ty Taylor in the Cleburne secondary, and Robert White. a sophomore linebacker and running back.
“We're going to see a group playing with their back against the wall, and playing for their playoff lives,” Morris said. “We just have to play inspired and play our brand of football.”
Brad Keith is the sports editor at the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at (254) 965-3124, ext. 241, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.