Moments after his team’s 44-17 win Friday, Stephenville head coach Joseph Gillespie said beating recent-nemesis Everman was like conquering a wall.
The win stretched the Yellow Jackets’ win streak to five, largely because all five opponents - Everman included - had no solution for another kind of wall.
For several seasons, locals have affectionately referred to the Stephenville offensive line as “The Wall,” and despite having only three seniors among the eight linemen on the varsity roster, the 2009 group is quickly becoming one of the school’s best “walls” in recent years.
The Wall has paved the way for junior running back James Myles to rush for 851 yards and 11 touchdowns on 139 carries (6.1 average), and given sophomore quarterback Connor Washington time to pick opposing defenses apart to the tune of 97-163 passing (60.7 percent) for 1,283 yards and 11 TDs.
With The Wall routinely winning the war in the trenches, Stephenville has bounced back from an 0-2 start by averaging 38 points and 354.4 yards per game during the win streak. The Jackets are averaging 31.4 points and 334.1 yards overall this season.
Thanks largely to the efforts of The Wall - which among its five starters stands an average of six foot one 1/4 inches and 241 pounds - the Jackets are in position to win a district title for the first time since splitting a league championship three ways with Aledo and Everman in 2006. Stephenville’s last outright district crown was won in 2005.
As is typical for any offensive line, The Wall does much of the work and gets little of the credit. Perhaps that’s why several members of the group, when asked what position they would like to play if they weren’t linemen, listed skill positions.
“I would play running back because it’s kind of a mix of everything,” said Dylan Frazier, a 5-11, 235-pounder and the only senior starting up front. “You still get to block some, but you get to catch passes, run and score touchdowns too.”
Kody Travis, a 6-3, 235-pound junior, says he would play tight end.
“You still get to block and you get to catch the ball,” was his simple reasoning.
Nic Perez, a junior measuring 6-3, 245 says he, too, would play tight end, following the same reasoning as Travis.
Kyle Tanner would play wide receiver, just for the sake of finding his way into the end zone.
“So I could score touchdowns,” Tanner said.
Austin Melvin, a 6-2, 225-pound junior, is the only lineman who wishes he could be the trigger puller in the offense, but his reasoning had nothing to do with the glory of the position.
“I’d play quarterback because then I’d never have to run in practice,” Melvin said.
Three of the linemen say they would move to defense and continue to play positions where they could hit opponents.
“Inside (line) backer,” said D.J. Vanden Berge, a 6-3, 255-pound junior. “I could hit people in the mouth and make them hurt.”
“I would play inside linebacker so I could hit the running backs,” said Ben Dammers, a junior listed at 6-0, 255 pounds.”
Ty Drury, 5-11, 280-pound senior, would like just one sack before ending his high school career.
“I would play outside linebacker so I could blitz and sack the quarterback,” Drury said.
Not that any of the Stephenville linemen would trade in his current role. Each knows how vital the responsibilities of The Wall are to the success of the team.
“It’s like Coach Gillespie always says, it all starts up front,” Dammers said.
“If we do our job, we win the game,” echoed Frazier.
“As long as we score we know we’re doing our job right,” Vanden Berge agreed. “That leads to wins.”
But before the wins could come, this group of linemen simply had to prove they belonged at the front of the Stephenville offense. You wouldn’t know it by watching the line now that it has gelled into a fine-tuned machine, but entering the season, not one member of The Wall had played a single down of 4A varsity football.
“We had to go to work and start from scratch,” Travis said. “It meant going the extra mile to get ready.”
“It meant stepping up,” Drury said.
Frazier was confident that no experience didn’t mean no success. He knew it was only a matter of time.
“I’ve known from the start we have what it takes to handle any team in our district and any team in the state as long as we keep improving every week,” Frazier said.
“We knew we could do it,” said Vanden Berge. “We just had to prove it to our fans and everyone else.”
Now, with wins like the one against Everman last Friday and perennial playoff contender Mansfield Timberview two weeks earlier, this group of mostly underclassmen is starting to realize just how special this season could be. And while they know their focus must remain on the game ahead of them each week, the possibility of big rewards at the end of the season is never far from their minds.
“A state championship is something we work hard and strive for every day,” said Travis. “We understand that we have to work extremely hard to get it.”
“That’s what we’ve worked so hard for since we started in junior high,” said Vanden Berge. “A state championship would mean everything to us and to the community.”
With The Wall leading the way, the program’s fifth state championship just might become reality.