Blu Caylor remembers well the summer between the seventh and eighth grades. Having just moved to Stephenville from Gordon a year earlier, he was excited that his best friend and great football player Krece Nowak would soon also be moving to Stephenville from Strawn.
“Going into the summer I'd tell all my friends, 'Krece is coming! Krece is coming!” he said.
And now, with both of them being seniors with the Yellow Jackets, Caylor has a message for Stephenville football opponents. Nowak is coming — and good luck stopping him.
Despite missing two non-district games with a rib injury and struggling with a hip pointer in the state semifinal loss to Kennedale, Nowak came within 60 yards of the school rushing record of 1,853 set by James Myles in 2009. Nowak finished with 1,793 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing, along with catching 42 passes for 654 yards and another seven scores.
But the elusive Nowak, who stands 5-9 and weighs 165, has more than the school rushing record on his mind. He wants to join the elites at Stephenville who have helped bring the Yellow Jackets a state championship, like the ones they won in 1993, 1994, 1998, 1999 and 2012.
“We want to be the next team to win state, get our picture on the Green Room wall, be that next team that everyone talks about,” Nowak said.
“The thing about Krece is he's not a me player, he's definitely a team player,” Yellow Jackets head coach Greg Winder said. “He would trade every single one of those yards for a state championship. He's got a chance to break all kind of records, but that's not what he's after. He wants to celebrate a championship with his teammates.”
Nowak and his teammates are fueled by the question of what might have happened had he not been hampered by a hip pointer in the Class 4A semifinals against Kennedale. He managed just 11 yards on 10 carries in a 54-28 loss to the Wildcats.
“I feel like we'd have had a chance in the Kennedale game, but really, they were the better team,” Nowak said. “But I think it could have been a lot closer.”
The Yellow Jackets appear poised to make another run with Nowak and an offense that averaged 46 points when he played returning seven starters. Along with Kennedale, the Yellow Jackets' other losses in a 12-3 season were back-to-back before they began district play when Nowak was out with a knee injury, falling 30-14 to Graham and 20-17 to Lubbock Monterey.
Graham finished 14-1 and reached the 4A Division II state semifinals, while Monterey finished 8-5 and reached the third round of the 5A Division I playoffs.
Nowak, who is completely healthy now, said he knows that as a senior his leadership role will be enhanced. He also understands that, with the graduation of three-year starting quarterback Easton Jones, he may be handling the ball even more as a new signal caller settles in.
“I know I'm probably going to get more carries, but that's OK,” he said. “And they'll get blitzed, so they can dump the ball to me on a quick little route. Whatever I have to do to help them get better, to help the team get better, that's what I'll do.”
As much as he loves running the ball, Nowak loves to catch passes just as much. In fact, he regularly works out with the wide receivers and has been told by college scouts that he might be moved to that position at the next level.
“It helps me be more of a threat. It opens up a lot of stuff across the middle,” Nowak said.
“If the defense has to watch for Krece catching passes out of the backfield, it opens up our running game that much more,” Caylor said. “And that makes him even harder to stop.”
This is Nowak's third season to start at running back for the Yellow Jackets. His career totals are 2,965 yards and 26 touchdowns rushing to go with 77 catches for 1,039 yards and eight touchdowns receiving. As a junior he was named all-state by the Texas Sports Writers Association, and he's a preseason all-state selection this year by Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine.
As a sophomore, Nowak and the Yellow Jackets reached the playoffs. However, they finished 4-7 and lost in the first round for a second straight year (going 3-8 in 2015). And though they almost doubled the win total of the previous two years last season, Nowak said he believes the coming season can be the one he and his teammates will remember the rest of their lives.
“I’m ready. I can't wait to start playing. It's been the longest summer yet,” he said.
And while Nowak said the rushing record is a distant second in his thoughts, Caylor wants him to have it all.
“I think he's the best back in the state. If we did not have Krece we would not be the team we are,” Caylor said. “I want him to get that record, and there's no doubt in my mind he will get it.
“And if he gets it, our chances of winning state are even greater.”