For a few horrific moments, it looked as if Ben Dammers would have no senior football season.
Dammers broke his ankle in a weightlifting accident last spring. He had surgery, watched spring ball on crutches then worked through rehab to be ready in time for the start of preseason practices.
It was all worth it, says the right guard, one of four returning starters on Stephenville's offensive line, as he joins his teammates in preparing to face Fort Worth Southwest in the area round of the 4A Division II playoffs.
It will be worth a lot more if the Yellow Jackets win Friday's 7:30 p.m. showdown at Ram Stadium in Mineral Wells.
"This is the spot we made it to last year," Dammers said. "We worked hard in the off-season and all year to get back here and to get past this point."
D.J. Vanden Berge was giving it all he had to be a part of the Yellow Jackets' varsity roster as a sophomore. But he suffered a knee injury and missed the entire 2008 season, watching from the sidelines while Stephenville reached the state quarterfinals.
The center returned and earned honorable-mention all-state recognition from the Texas Sports Writers Association as a junior last fall. As a senior, he understands the meaning of every playoff contest.
"It's so important to be back here again because everyone worked so hard to get here," Vanden Berge said. "Since we're seniors, every win means we get to keep playing together."
Nic Perez, the starting left guard, agrees.
"It's a journey," Perez said. "We want to keep our journey going right now."
"This is our last chance to win state," added starting left tackle Austin Melvin.
Kody Travis, the starting right tackle, says it's all about two kinds of work - hard work and teamwork - combining to pay off.
"We've all bought in. We've spent hours together basically every day working hard to get to this point, and we'll work hard to keep going," Travis said.
The five seniors who make up "The Wall," as Stephenville's offensive line is affectionately known, stand an average of 6 feet, 2.4 inches and tip the scale at an average of 253 pounds.
Combined, the five have started 103 games and played significantly in 115, and together they have led the Jackets offense to some impressive numbers this fall.
"The Wall" has paved the way for the Stephenville offense to average 431.1 yards and 30.5 points per contest. The Jackets will very likely top 5,000 total yards of offense in Friday's area playoff.
Much of that success has come on the ground, where Stephenville averages 228.2 yards per game. Running back Aiavion Edwards has rushed for 1,504 yards, 327 short of the school's single-season record.
The offensive linemen take particular pride in their run blocking.
"I think I can speak for all of us when I say we love hitting people," Travis said. "You get to hit people more when you run the ball than when you pass it."
"Running the ball is something we take pride in," Dammers agreed.
Vanden Berge says it's all about moving the ball effectively.
"We have a great running back in Aiavion," Vanden Berge said. "We're able to move the ball, and I like that the coaches trust us enough to put a lot of plays on our shoulders."
The group also takes pride in getting downfield and making blocks that turn big gainers into touchdowns.
"Most of the downfield plays are the ones that score," explains Dammers. "When you're the one who gets the downfield block to spring a scoring run, it's a good feeling."
The linemen know their journey together is nearing its conclusion, but they also know they control their own destiny, and don't want to see it end any sooner than it has to.
"We're great friends, we've all bonded together real well," Melvin said.
"We've been playing together a long time now," said Vanden Berge. "I've grown to look at these guys as my best friends. We're pretty much family."
A family that will go to war together Friday.
And, hopefully, for four more weeks to come.
"The ultimate goal is to win the state championship," Travis said. "We're slowly working our way there."