Mineola Thinks It Has The Winning Combination As Obvious Window Of Opportunity Tightens
MINEOLA -- Eight months ago, quarterback Jeremiah Crawford dejectedly walked up the ramp at the Warrior-Gopher Bowl in Grand Prairie after the second biggest game of his life. Opposing fans were charging the field.
Everything about that game is so very vivid. The sun had set around 5:30 p.m. for a kickoff two hours later, and the stadium's design placed 7,500 fans almost right above the playing field for that coveted big game feel.
Mineola's white-on-white-on-white uniforms particularly popped that night under excellent lighting and crisp air as did its opponent's blue and yellow with chrome helmets.
Amazing sight lines also let all fans see how worthy the West Texas team of Brock was of winning the state championship it ultimately did win six days later. Brock dominated the Yellowjackets in all phases and rolled to a 38-22 win in the Class 3A Division I state semifinals.
That's where the story of the twice-scorned 2016 Mineola team really began, even ahead of the in-season practices that began Monday.
"I really can't tell you what's going to happen, to be honest," Crawford said between reps of 135-pound power cleans after practice at Meredith Memorial Stadium. "Obviously, we want a ring on our finger.
"Coach (Joe) Drennon posed this question to us this morning, 'What is it going to take to get a ring? What is it going to take?' It's going to take everything we have. That's what we strive for. That's what we want."
This Yellowjackets team is picked to win the 3A Division I state championship against Cameron Yoe in Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine. That would be something because Yoe defeated Crawford and company in the 2014 title game.
The Old Coach's Friday Night Football magazine has picked Brock to knock out Mineola once again in the state semifinals.
Regardless, it is supposed to be a good season. A regional championship season at minimum.
The Yellowjackets return all 11 of their starters on defense from a 14-1 team plus eight starters on offense.
Of the eight offensive guys, Crawford is back as is running back Chantz Perkins. Both are seniors and were responsible for a large majority of Mineola's yards and touchdowns on a team that averaged about 39 points per game last year.
Crawford and Perkins also were the offensive skill position stars in 2014. They helped rally the team from an 0-3 start to a tough night against Yoe nearly a quarter-year later.
But this championship contender will be a little different. It lost two Southeastern Conference caliber offensive tackles to graduation in May.
Austin Anderson and Riley Anderson, twins, are now part of Texas A&M's football program.
Guard Oliver El Hallaloui also graduated to round out the entirety of the Yellowjackets' losses.
"No big deal," Drennon said in jest. "But we do have kids that have been playing those spots. It's not like we have two kids that have never practiced, not like we never practiced anyone else. We don't have anybody that's going to be 6-foot-5, 290 pounds. We don't have that.
"We do have good kids at those spots, though. We have (sophomore) Cameron Wise, who is 6-foot-1 and 260 pounds and very athletic. Dalton Robles is an athletic person who just has to remember his plays. Our guards are as athletic as they were last year, I would think. Oliver El Hallaoui was a really good player for us, but I think Tracy Murphy can be a really good guard."
Most teams are tackling deeper positional losses. In fact, the three other teams that made up last year's 3A Division I final four -- Brock, Mathis and Yoe -- have 10 or more players to replace.
The second issue facing the Yellowjackets is more abstract. It's the concern any given contender this go-around could be a threat to assert its physical will, like Brock did.
Drennon said the film review of the state semifinal revealed Brock bullied his team at times and just played at a level of speed his side had not seen.
So, Mineola took its non-district scheduling to the next level and will face solely Class 4A opponents in Brownsboro, Kaufman, Van and Wills Point before beginning the district schedule against similarly sized 3A Division I schools.
Kaufman has 621 more potential athletes to work with than the Yellowjackets, Brownsboro has 363 more, Van has 308 more, and Wills Point has 271 more potential football players.
Mineola High School's student enrollment is 444.
"We've got to stay healthy through those first four games," Drennon said. "I really like our chances, but it's going to be really tough. Us and Van play in the first ball game here. There probably won't be a seat in this house. I know coach (Jared) Moffatt. They do an outstanding job with those kids.
"We need those games. If we do get the chance to play Brock again, or a team like Brock, we will have played that type of team. We have to play at that level."
Mineola has big aspirations. It also has 18 players with an established track record of success.
This is the final season for most of a group that has already played in a semifinal game. Others date back to a state championship appearance.
"It feels great to be back on the field," Crawford said. "This is my last year to play high school football. I plan on making it one of the the best years of my life."
They Said It
Head coach Joe Drennon on if he has viewed the 2014, 2015 and present season as a window of opportunity to win a state championship:
"I really do, and I think we need to take advantage of it. You've always got to work for everything you get here on the football field. I don't want to overlook anybody, and we're going to be prepared every night. But we're also not crazy. (Dave Campbell's) has us picked No. 1 for a reason right now. I think it's because we have a really good football team. But, like I told my kids before we started this morning, it really doesn't matter where we're ranked right now. It's when the season is over that matters."
Senior defensive lineman Drason Tenner on returning 11 defensive starters:
"I think we're in a good spot right now. Communication is a key for every defense. We've really gotten to know each other more, the incoming JV team coming to varsity, we've started to communicate with them. The goal is to just do what we did last year."
Tenner on facing four 4A teams:
"Honestly, playing 4A teams will help a lot. They're bigger teams with more subs that can come in. It's going to help us with our speed and really test us. We can't get tired. We've got to just keep working and working. I think it's going to be a really good experience for us."