Malakoff’s Historic Season the Product of a Changed Culture
Before Jamie Driskell took over the football program, Malakoff was mostly known by motorists traveling from Tyler to Waco as a "speed trap."
But now, the Tigers are on the precipice of high school football immortality. A win Friday night over Yoakum would send Malakoff to the Class 3A Division I state championship game.
“Everybody’s really excited," said Driskell, who is in his eighth season as head coach. "This is something we’ve never really experienced before, so we’re not real used do it. It’s something I hope we get used to.”
Since Driskell's arrival, Malakoff has become one of East Texas' most consistent winners, reaching the playoffs eight consecutive years with an overall record of 78-18.
In the eight seasons before Driskell took the job, the Tigers were barely on the radar, winning just 28 games from 2001-08. Malakoff was 0-10 the year before Driskell's hire.
“The kids were hungry when we got there," Driskell said. "They wanted to win, but didn’t know how. It’s been eight years and there’s obviously been some bumps in the road and ups and downs along the way. The biggest thing is they wanted to work, and we got them going in the right direction. Our offseason program is extremely tough. But now for our kids it’s all they know. I got some good middle school coaches who the get the kids started early.”
Malakoff took a giant leap in its program in 2015 by going toe-to-toe with three-time defending state champion Cameron Yoe in the second round of the playoffs.
The Tigers blew a 25-point lead that night, and fell in heartbreaking fashion, 45-44. Most coaches will tell you there are no such things as moral victories, but Malakoff's coach believes that game represented a turning point in the program.
“It’s strange to say but that loss kinda put us on the map," Driskell said. "It proved to our kids that we could play with anybody. So we came into the year with confidence that if we could stay healthy we could do some damage."
And as fate would have it, Malakoff got its chance at redemption last week in the regional finals against Yoe, which was hoping to advance to its fifth consecutive state title game.
Malakoff was on the victorious side this time, getting a 30-yard, game-winning field goal in overtime from sophomore Everardo Garcia, which sent the Tigers to a dramatic 37-34 win.
"Any time you win a game like that, it’s gonna help confidence," Driskell said. "That was the biggest game our kids have ever played in, and that was the biggest game I’ve ever coached in.”
Malakoff (14-0) will bring a dynamic offense into its semifinal with Yoakum, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday from the University of Texas' Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin.
The Tigers average more than 46 points and 450 yards of offense per game, led by junior quarterback Judd Miller, who has thrown for 3,422 yards with 47 touchdowns and rushed for 510 yards and eight TD's.
“Obviously he’s a talented kid with a great arm who can run a little bit," Driskell said of Miller (5-11, 200). "He’s very intelligent, but the biggest thing about him is he’s level-headed. He has a calm demeanor, he stays calm when other plays don’t, and sometimes he even calms me down. I think his personality has been a big asset to our kids.”
Senior receivers QT Barker (5-11, 165) and Tyler Russell (6-2, 175) have been a handful for opposing defenses all season with almost 2,500 yards and 40 touchdown receptions between them.
“They’re very talented, but they’re very intelligent players," said Driskell of Barker and Russell. "Of course they want the ball like any playmaker does, but what they do is open up a lot of things for us. Jaquaylon Hart, another receiver, broke his ankle and missed seven games and he’s been kinda flying under the radar, and he’s pretty dynamic himself. And our running back Breashawn Williams is a good back, and defenses have to defend him as well.”
Defensively, Malakoff has been just as dominant, holding teams to less than 15 points and 230 yards per game.
“We’ve become a lot more physical," Driskell said. "(Defensive coordinator Brent Watkins) has been here since I’ve been here, and he’s instilled a lot of physical and mental toughness. We’re flying to the ball, and tackling really well.”
Yoakum (10-4) will send two of the most dynamic players in the state's 2018 recruiting class to the field against Malakoff in Joshua and Jordan Moore, who hold more than 60 combined offers from some of the biggest programs in college football.
“They’re a lot like Tyler and QT, and what’s funny is that they’ll be guarding each other," Driskell said. "They’re No. 1 and No. 2 and so are Tyler and QT. It’s gonna be a fun matchup. But they also have some big backs that I’m worried about us tackling. They’re very physical and probably run the ball about 70-75 percent of the time.”
The winner of Friday's game will face either Mineola or Wall in the 3A Division I state championship, scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 15), from AT&T Stadium in Arlington.