Defending State Champion Waskom Continuing To Win
Despite being the defending state champion, Waskom wasn’t picked by many to win district, much less compete for another state championship. The Wildcats are proving everyone wrong with a 7-0 record, which includes four wins in district play heading into this week’s showdown with undefeated West Rusk.
“We lost some really important and good players from last season. We knew we had some talent combing back, but it was expected that on the outside people wouldn’t think we could be as good as we were last year,” head coach Whitney Keeling said. “Honestly, the media probably had it right because we didn’t know how good we’d be either going into the season. There were a lot of positions we needed guys to step in at and those guys have been a pleasant surprise.”
Reaching the mountain top is really hard, but staying on that mountain top is even harder because of the distractions and hangover that come with achieving what Waskom achieved in 2014.
“It starts in the offseason,” said Keeling of forgetting about last season and working towards 2015. “It is easy to get caught up in last year with the parades and ring ceremonies and all that, but it’s a new legacy we want to build for us this year and we can’t live in the past. We want to live in the future and we work extremely hard. It is definitely much easier to get to the top than stay at the top and that is our challenge right now.”
Waskom was able to get a jump-start on 2015 with the championship run in 2014. Waskom brought up 14 guys to the varsity and those players were allowed six extra weeks of practice, which equates to over 20 practices most younger players don’t get.
“We’re winning, in a lot of ways, with last year’s backups and those guys that got the extra work during the playoff run. Most of those guys played last year in the regular season and got invaluable practice time, so we had an advantage there,” Keeling said. “It is their time and I couldn’t be more proud of how these guys have stepped up and worked on doing something special.”
It wasn’t an easy turnaround for Keeling at Waskom. This is his sixth season at the school, and after not reaching the playoffs from 1993-2012, the Wildcats are 36-2 since the beginning of the 2013 season.
“Number one, we had to change the mindset of the players. We hadn’t made the playoffs in 22 years when I got here and we had to change that losing mentality and not fold when we faced adversity,” Keeling said. “We knew the middle school guys were going to be good when we got here. The seniors, who were seventh graders when I got here, have lost three games since the seventh grade. Those guys know nothing but winning, and that helps us because we can focus on football and not the culture of the program.”
To avoid adding a fourth loss to that total, Waskom needs to beat West Rusk.
“They’re really good up front. They’re huge on the offensive line and have a good scheme. They can throw the ball really well, but that is a balanced offense and those are tougher to defend because we’ll need to defend everything,” Keeling said. “We’re treating it like a playoff game and so are they. We think this will determine the district championship, and we want to defend our crown. It is going to be a great atmosphere and something we’re looking forward to as a team.”