Brayden Coverdale's weekly escalating performance in the Stephenville secondary has not come as a shock to head coach Joseph Gillespie or even to Coverdale himself.

His story is not that of Rudy, the Notre Dame walk-on who finally made it on the field.

Gillespie says Coverdale, a junior, is a good athlete who was bound to make an impact sooner or later.

Because of events beyond the safety's control, the opportunity came sooner, not later.

It was a domino effect that led to Coverdale's sudden move to the starting lineup after he was moved from the junior varsity to the varsity just days before the season opener.

Returning all-state running back James Myles defected from the team for personal reasons after three games, leading to Aiavion Edwards' move from safety to running back.

Gillespie wasted no time promoting Coverdale, trusting the proven Stephenville system to provide the next good player in line.

"Brayden's a good athlete and a good football player," Gillespie said. "He's also one of those great program kids. He's extremely coachable and very intelligent. He plays with his mind more than anything.

"He's allowed us, for the most part, to keep Aiavion on the offensive side of the ball and still be effective on defense," Gillespie continued.

Now, Coverdale, who is credited with 26.0 total tackles - 11 solo stops and 30 assists - along with three tackles for loss, an interception, two knocked down passes and five "big hits," says he feels comfortable in the starting line up just in time for the playoffs.

"I feel pretty comfortable now," Coverdale said. "It's like I'm just a regular starter."

It wasn't always that way. Coverdale admits he was anxious when called upon to replace Edwards, who was a Texas Sports Writers Association honorable-mention all-state honoree as a sophomore last fall.

"The first game was against Hebron and I was excited but I was also really anxious," Coverdale said. "It was pretty much the first time I had been on the field in a varsity game."

He says the thought of being expected to play like Edwards did cross his mind early on.

"The first game I thought about that," Coverdale says. "Then I talked to Coach Gillespie and he said I don't have to make any amazing plays, I just have to play my position and when the opportunity comes for those plays, I'll be there."

Gillespie says he told Coverdale to be himself.

"I told him 'You don't have to go in and be Aiavion Edwards,'" Gillespie said. "'What you have to do is be Brayden Coverdale and play your game. Know your strengths and build on those.'"

The building came gradually throughout the final seven games of the regular season.

"His role continues to grow," Gillespie said. "There were times early on when we took him out of some adverse circumstances because we still had some teaching and learning to do and we didn't want to put him out there and get him shellshocked from the very beginning.

"We've gradually worked into this and now we're at the point where he put in a full 48 minutes the other night, and it was a big 48," Gillespie continued. "He's showing more and more from week to week how he's growing and maturing as a football player."

Coverdale says it's been all about hard work.

"Every week I've just practiced hard and kept getting better," he said. "I feel like I've come a long way since the first time I started."

The stats agree. Coverdale played the whole way defensively in last week's regular-season finale against Waco, making two tackles behind the line of scrimmage on his way to tallying two solo stops and three assists.

The Yellow Jackets won that contest 41-21, securing the top Division II seed from District 8-4A to set up Friday's bi-district playoff against Crowley.

With Edwards - who has rushed for more than 1,200 yards since Coverdale took over most of his defensive snaps - being the focal point of the Yellow Jacket offense entering the postseason, Coverdale will remain a key cog in the defensive scheme.

"Going through district was a lot different than it was at the junior varsity level (last year)," Coverdale said. "Now it's the playoffs and I'm excited. I can't wait."

He says the Jackets enter the postseason with something to prove.

"Redemption (is what we're after), if that's the right word," is what Coverdale says the team is after. "After going 1-4 before district, we're trying to send a message to other teams that we're not a 5-5 team. I know we're not a 5-5 team in our hearts."

Gillespie says it's that competitive drive that has him convinced Coverdale will be effective in the playoffs.

"He's an extreme competitor," Gillespie said. "Even early in the season when he was seeing very limited time (the losses) hurt him the same as if he had played 65 or 70 snaps. He's a great competitor and a great team player."

And now he'll have the chance to prove it - as a full-fledge starter in the state playoffs.