Don’t blame Joseph Gillespie for being anxious over the start of spring football practice in Stephenville.
He only spent his whole life working toward the Yellow Jackets’ head coaching position.
Once he got the job on Feb. 15, the Stephenville High School graduate who was also named athletics director after serving the district 13 years as an assistant coach, had little time to focus primarily on football.
“We’ve been hiring coaches and making sure all of our other sports are in line, too,” Gillespie said. “With spring ball starting, I’ve finally been able to spend the last couple weeks focusing primarily on football. It’s still all kind of settling in on me.”
Gillespie expects 110 Yellow Jackets currently in grades 9-11 to be on the practice fields at 8 a.m. Monday when spring ball begins.
That’s just more than an hour after a handful of new coaches officially begin their duties at SHS at 6:45 a.m.
“They’ve been here and have spent as much quality time with the kids as possible,” Gillespie said of the new additions to the staff. “Everyone knows who their coach is and what is expected of them, and the kids are excited. They’ve been asking me, ‘Will Coach (Cliff) Watkins be here, will Coach (Jeffrey) be here?’ Everyone’s definitely ready to go.”
Gillespie credits the student-athletes for staying focused and committed while the staff was shorthanded after the departure of several assistants, mostly on the offensive side, to Lake Travis with Chad Morris, who resigned from Stephenville on Feb. 5.
“The kids have taken it upon themselves to be focused and work hard to get ready. If anything, I think that may have made them stronger.”
The head coach is quick to point out the “seniors” (currently juniors) who have led the way through the off season.
“We have guys returning like Chris Malone, Brad Mills, Josh Emmons, Josh Graves, Dwayne Phillips and Brad Picha who are doing an outstanding job of providing leadership,” he said.
Gillespie expects the offense to be further along than the defense when drills start Monday morning.
“The offense has more guys returning, and (Picha) will do a great job at quarterback. He was able to get into some of the action last season and did an outstanding job for us.”
Picha was baptized by fire when blue chip quarterback Kody Spano, now at the University of Nebraska, went down with a shoulder injury.
The next week, fresh up from JV, Picha recovered from a pair of interceptions on his first two varsity passes to go 10-11 for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the second half against Mineral Wells.
The defense doesn’t return the numbers the offense does, but there is star quality in TR Varnado and Josh Emmons up front and Chris Malone in the secondary.
“We’re a little more green on defense,” Gillespie admits, “but with those guys back we feel like we have something to build around.”