Waskom Keeps Overcoming Injuries On Its Way to the Third Round
Waskom came into the 2017 season with a roster size similar to other schools of its size, but the Wildcats have constantly been fighting the injury bug all season.
Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, a safety, a quarterback, a middle linebacker and running back and others have gone down at some point this season. The Wildcats have been forced to piece their lineups together along the way, but the wins have been happening despite the adversity.
"Today we're not any healthier than we were earlier in the season. We're a small school and unfortunately we've been hit with injuries all season," Waskom coach Whitney Keeling said on Wednesday. "But I think we have the kind of mentality if someone goes down, the next person has to step up. It's not a secret to these guys if they don't see a teammate out there. You can tell them all you want, but they know it. But whoever is out there has to perform to the best of their ability. And sometimes you can find a diamond in the rough."
Waskom (8-4) is riding a four-game winning streak, with the last two being consecutive 42-18 victories in the first two rounds of the Class 3A Division II playoffs. The Wildcats face Garrison at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Carthage in the regional semifinals.
Despite injuries, Keeling said his team is playing with a chip on its shoulder after a 4-7 season in 2016 and a first-round playoff exit. The disappointing campaign followed consecutive state titles.
"I think we've done extremely well considering our injuries. I think that last year our kids weren't very happy with the situation that happened. We were really young and our season didn't end in a way we all anticipated," Keeling said. "But we've forgotten that part and moved on. Our kids are having fun and playing with confidence and that's the main part of it."
One notable injury in the 2016 season was to running back T.K. Hamilton, who was knocked out for the season in the Wildcats' second district game against Elysian Fields. He returned with a vengeance in 2017, having rushed for 1,675 yards and 25 touchdowns through 12 games. Hamilton put up 219 yards and three scores last week in Waskom's area-round win over Hearne.
"T.K. is a very dynamic football player on both sides of the ball. This year he's been very fortunate to stay healthy and he's having a great year so far," Keeling said. "He's had three really good games in a row."
Keeling said the biggest thing he's noticed about his junior running back, however, is his growth as a leader.
"Over the course of the season T.K. has really grown up a lot. This year he's leading by example and really over the last few games I've seen him really encourage other teammates when they've scored or made a great play," Keeling said. "It's kind of anti-climactic when you see your best player get in the end zone, but when it's someone else and you see your leader encourage them, that builds your team up."
As many tests as its faced this season, Waskom has another big one Friday night against Garrison. The Bulldogs took down Elysian Fields, which beat Waskom 30-27 in the regular season, the first week of the playoffs and followed that with a 40-21 win over Clifton last week.
"I think (Garrison) is playing with a lot of confidence right now. Early on in the season I think they were lot like us trying to find their identity," Keeling said. "But you can almost see that after they beat Elysian Fields their confidence level has really increased. I think it's going to be a one- or two-score game and turnovers will probably be the key to it. Fortunately for us the last few games we haven't committed too many mistakes on our part. If our kids can execute on the offensive line, which is huge as a triple-option team, we have the opportunity to win."