Editor's note: This is the last of a three-part series of excerpts from the Art Briles' biography Looking Up: My Journey From Tragedy to Triumph.
Briles, currently the head coach at Baylor University in Waco, led Stephenville to four state championships in the 1990s, and returns to town Monday along with author Nick Eatman to sign copies of the book.
The Yellow Jackets knew a thing or two about defending a title. In 1994 the team was coming off its first state championship. They lost a quarterback in Branndon Stewart, but had nine returning seniors who would eventually sign college scholarships, including their do-it-all leader, Jason Bragg. So it wasn’t a surprise when that team went 16–0 and repeated as state champs.
In 1999 the Jackets were again replacing a senior quarterback, one who was coming off a record-setting campaign. Luker was gone, but it was time for Kendal Briles to run the show. Here’s a kid who grew up on the Stephenville practice fields. He had seen it all and heard it all, and now it was his chance to lead the Jackets back to the Promised Land. Pretty hefty expectations for any 17-year-old kid, especially the son of the head coach.
With Stephenville ranked No. 1 in the state to open the 1999 season, Kendal was suddenly seeing his picture in magazines and newspapers, including the Dallas Morning News, which at the time had one of the most-recognized sports sections in the country. The Yellow Jackets received fantastic coverage from local papers such as the Stephenville Empire-Tribune and certainly with the Abilene Reporter News, where longtime columnist Bill Hart was always kind to the Jackets, and in particular Art, who gave Hart the nickname “Legend.”
While they had nothing but respect for those smaller papers, the players and coaches always knew they had made it big when the Dallas Morning News profiled one of their own or wrote an advance for an upcoming contest. Usually that didn’t happen until the playoffs, but with Stephenville listed atop the preseason polls, the Dallas newspaper ran a feature on Art and Kendal and their chances of repeating.
Kendal told the paper there was much more pressure to replace Luker than suiting up for his dad: “But I still think we have a chance to win state again. That’s the best part of playing for my dad—that I can be there with him when we win.”
Not an if but a when. Just like the ’94 team chose not to order senior class rings because they expected to earn another ring at state, this ’99 squad had the same intentions. Nothing short of winning it all would be accepted.
The book signing is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday at Barefoot Athletics on Washington Street across from the Tarleton State University administration building. Briles will sign only the biography, and organizers ask fans to avoid bringing other memorabilia. Books are available for purchase at Barefoot Athletics, but do not have to be purchased on sight to obtain a signature.
This concludes our three-part series of excerpts from the Briles' biography. All excerpts were printed with the permission of the author.