Youthful Waskom Looks to Learn From + Build On Season-Opening Win
During Waskom's season opener last Friday, coach Whitney Keeling had to have flashbacks to the Wildcats' first game almost exactly two years earlier.
It was Aug. 28, 2014 when Waskom last lost a football game. Keeling watched his team fumble the ball 13 times -- losing eight -- on its way to a 28-20 loss to Center.
After 32 wins and two state championships, Keeling was practically reliving that day last Friday night against Jefferson. The Wildcats turned the ball over nine times -- eight fumbles and one interception -- but escaped with a 26-24 win in double overtime.
"Any time you turn the ball over nine times, you get pretty stressed out," Keeling said. "We just didn't protect the ball."
Needless to say, winning a game despite being minus-7 in turnover differential doesn't happen very often, but Keeling said he was proud of how his team stuck with it.
"We're playing with sophomores and juniors at every skill position. We’re just really young and raw, and luckily for us, our kids play hard and gave the best effort they could and overcame the mistakes at the end," Keeling said.
Waskom hasn't had to deal with this much youth in years. Keeling and his Wildcats have only known defeat twice over the last 48 games, but a majority of this year's team is new to varsity. Most haven't played a role in Waskom's 33-game winning streak.
"We never talk about the winning streak," Keeling said. "What we try to tell them is this is a new team. This team has nothing to do with the team that won it last year. These guys are trying to make their own legacy."
What Keeling does see in this year's young squad is the same attitude and passion he coached over the previous 32 wins.
"The desire to win is definitely there. These guys are fun to coach; they show up to work every day with a good attitude. What we're missing is the character and senior leadership," Keeling said. "But that comes with experience and Friday nights. You lose guys like Chan Amie and Mike Reason -- those guys were three- and four-year starters. You don't make up for that instantly."
Waskom still holds a few pieces of experience from last year's team, namely in safety Jason Jinks. After scoring the two-point conversion to put the Wildcats up by eight in the second overtime, he made the tackle on Jefferson's two-point try to seal the win.
A combination of leadership from players like Jinks and the gradual experience gained each week is what will keep Waskom successful, Keeling said.
"You've got to get better every day. That's the ultimate goal," Keeling said. "With these young guys you can see the light comes on when you show them the videos and they see what they do right and what they need to fix. Then they go out at practice and perform it. That's where you build the confidence, knowledge and leadership."
Waskom faces Harmony at 7 p.m. Friday at Longview High School's Lobo Stadium.