Lindale Football Grinds Through The Night In Pursuit Of Breakthrough Season
LINDALE -- There was a lot of enthusiasm Monday surrounding Lindale's first organized practice of the 2015 season.
The spirit squads and cheerleaders had painted and hung banners across Eagle Stadium and were present. About 50 fans also gave up sleep ahead of the work day to watch the unorthodox 12 a.m. start.
But people can only take so much at such a late hour. The final holdovers, the die hards of football, were zombies by 2 a.m.
Even the bugs gave up on the stimulus of the lights and retired for the evening.
So, the Eagles continued to work with zero outside noise. Motivated by what became available to them on this particular date.
"The players and myself, I can't speak for the other coaches, but I don't sleep much on the first night anyway," head coach Mike Meador said at 3 a.m. "I might as well be up here working and getting a practice in. The same thing with the kids. They stay up late because they're excited about the season. They've actually asked me if we can have several midnight practices. I don't think we'll do that."
Meador, who adopted the annual event last year, laughed. It takes a lot of sacrifice to make a novelty practice work.
But it was an investment. And it will be a lifelong memory for his guys.
They called this thing 'Midnight Madness.' It's a fairly new concept on the Texas high school football level, but the idea has been floating around in the college basketball world since 1971.
Maryland is credited with starting the trend of conducting a public first practice at the midnight hour. Kansas and Kentucky picked it up the next decade.
The message each conveyed was simple.
That they cared about the game. That they would be in the gym the first second the NCAA permitted organized practice and planned to end their seasons with the final buzzer in the national championship game. That no one could outwork them.
Back at Lindale, green lit by the University Interscholastic League's non-specific language that practice is permitted from Aug. 3 onward, the next closest school showing signs of life under the lights was in the Metroplex.
"It was great to be back with my family," senior receiver Tayton Williams said. "Great to see everyone, the fans that support us. It was great to put in our first bit of work to get ready for the season before anyone else is awake."
Oh, they were awake. Waiting for their own practices to start and thumbing through pictures of the Eagles' session online.
A generation with more accessibility to get their word out than ever before, the team has been saying this is the year things turn around.
The Eagles always draw local intrigue and, recently, ire. Another team pushing for a playoff spot in the already choked District 16-5A is a very upsetting thought.
Ennis won the Class 5A Division II championship last season after winning the league title, and it has been one of the best programs in the state since 2000. John Tyler advanced to the Class 5A Division I state semifinals and might be in even better position this year.
Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Whitehouse and Corsicana all could be better. Jacksonville rounds out the district and brought in key coaching pieces from Gilmer's 2014 state championship team.
Lindale's presence has been a comforting thought for the district's top teams in recent years. It went 3-7 overall last season, matching its best win total of the past three campaigns.
Circumstance and talent may indeed be turning the tide here though.
Lindale has 103 less students to choose from than the second-smallest school, Jacksonville, and 966 less than Lufkin as the largest. It's not as big a deal this season.
"They've been playing football together for a long time," Meador said. "We've got 30-something seniors. I was looking at our district last year and several of the district schools, John Tyler, Lufkin and Ennis have a lot more students than us and classes of 30-plus seniors on their teams. We have 30-plus seniors. We've never had that before, 25 or 26 was the biggest. That was a huge class for us."
Kendrick Price Jr. adds a lot to Lindale's receiving corps alongside Williams. He's one of a few players that could become a Division I college prospect as the season progresses.
Junior quarterback Montana Meador has some experience. The offensive and defensive lines are adequately sized for their district competition. The back layers of the defense are supposed to be improved.
Then there's senior running back Ryan Taylor who set in motion the tone for the past offseason. He punched in a one-yard touchdown in overtime to give the Eagles a win against Whitehouse in the season finale.
"It gave us a great boost for the season coming up," Taylor said. "We know we are capable of big things if we can execute. We're really close. We're a good family."
Practice ended with 15 sprints of 40 yards. Each run represented the 15 games Lindale will have to play in to reach its first ever state championship game.
Then a final run of 100 yards to symbolize a state championship win.
"We wanted to show everybody here how bad we want it," Price said. "There's a bond that's been stronger than any time before that I've been here. You can just feel it. It's an intensity. A desire. A want to. In the past years it's been just saying we want to change. But nobody actually did anything about it.
"This summer and back to the spring, I feel like we've just been on each other about, 'This is our year. We've got to make it happen.' I know it's thrown around a lot, but this is family."
The final fans headed for bed at 2:45 a.m.
The Eagles team, with its support staff, spirit and cheer squads, was left all to itself once again. They thought in that moment they had everything they needed.
"We're trying to take it to another level that Lindale has never been to," Mike Meador said. "We've got a group of guys that believe what we're doing and a really good senior class. We've got to start talking right now about our plans and the playoffs. First of all, you've got to get to the playoffs and then keep winning. I think they believe."