On Nov. 26, 2004, I stood on the sidelines at Waco ISD Stadium as the Kilgore Bulldogs cut through the El Campo defense like a hot knife through butter – starring running back Keith Gilliam in the role of the knife – as grown men chased their hats around in that blustery wind like the ghosts chasing Pac-Man.
Kilgore faces El Campo again at Waco ISD Stadium next Friday, and right out of the gate, I want to make it clear I am not comparing this year’s Bulldogs to a team that was unbeaten at that point, and went on to finish that way and claim a state championship. That would be unfair to those guys, and it would be unfair to this current group of Bulldogs.
I am saying this Kilgore team does have it in their power to do something special. But they’ve got to find it within themselves to make it happen.
We’ve seen both ends of the spectrum this year, fantastic and – not so fantastic. At its worst, the 2017 season was a mess, a 28-0 lead gone bad Nov. 3 on the Bulldogs’ first-ever (only ever?) trip to Center. Kilgore mashed the Roughriders on the way to that big lead, and then, like snowballs are apt to do, it rolled downhill and melted in the form of back-to-back-to-back-to back turnovers and a 49-35 loss that no one saw coming.
But at its best (and we’ve seen that, too, including against Little Cypress-Mauriceville on Thursday), Kilgore has a running game that is second to none, one that’s averaging about 370 rushing yards a game, and a good mesh of talent in about every position. The offensive line isn’t big but it’s not undersized, either, and has helped Kilgore account for about 4,400 yards, a dang lot.
The kicking game is in capable hands with the Torres brothers, the defense is an opportunistic one that can create a lot of havoc when things go right, and quarterback Patrick Jackson has settled in as the driver of the offense.
Jackson’s got a ton of weapons – Briant Mumphrey, Deiontrae Wheat, Ja’Vorie Hamilton, and Jaiden Zackery included – and one of them, Oklahoma State-bound receiver Jonathan Shepherd, is a matchup nightmare for most teams that has gotten over a drop problem early in his varsity career and is now a heck of a weapon with the ball in his hands. Ask Henderson.
The Bulldogs have gotten Deuce Ervin and Isaiah Smith back in the defensive lineup from injuries, and they’re capable of making plays (and already doing so). Demorrea Richardson is one of the very best defensive ends on Longview Street in a decade. Coach Mike Wood and his coaching staff have, for the most part, been together a long time, and know how to get the most out of what they’ve got.
Make no mistake: this is a talented team. But Woody can’t go out there in a game situation and make plays on the D-line. Rafe Mata is out of eligibility and can’t make throws in a game that counts. Joey Pippen can’t outrun the coverage and pull in the deep ball. Mark Roskos isn’t scaring anyone with his vertical. And I run a 5-minute 40.
But Kilgore has the players that are able to do those things. The will to win, and most importantly, the right attitude, are among the intangibles that are going to make all the difference in the world for the Bulldogs from this point – one way or another. That's also true in the game of life.
Guys – and I’m talking to the players now – this football season can go on as long as you want it. The coaches can coach, fans can go wild, the cheerleaders can cheer, the Hi-Steppers can dance and the band can play. You know what else? The sports editor can use a bunch of clichés. We’ve all got your backs.
But in the end, when the rubber meets the road, you’re the ones that make it happen. One thing is certain: for the seniors in this group, there won't be another year of playing Kilgore football. This is the last one they'll ever be a part of, on the field. You may not believe me now, but these memories will last a lifetime: games, the bus trips, the friendships, and all the atmosphere around you. You might as well make them good ones.
You're ready for the journey. We're ready to see it. Let’s go take it together.