MEN OF 10
Starting sometime back in the seventh grade, the whispering began.
These guys—these "fabulous freshmen"—were special.
And while earning that crown is still a possibility, the Class of 2010 has certainly turned the football program around and brought it back to the land of respectability.
"They've been a part of everything that we have done," said Rockdale Coach Jeff Miller. "They do a good job of leading by example. Most importantly, they are really, really a great group of young men.
"They are very respectful and that more than anything makes them fine young men.
"We've preached from day one about having confidence in yourself. We don't have to do that with these guys, they're pretty confident. That right there in itself, has helped us more than anything."
This class will of course always remain special to Miller and his entire staff, because they both arrived at RHS at the same time.
However, Miller is quick to point out that no one class does anything by itself.
"We just graduated a pretty good class that contributed to our success as much as anybody. So you put those two classes together, it's pretty special."
It was hard not to take notice of these guys. They reeled off 23 straight wins without a loss between seventh grade and their freshmen seasons, finally succumbing to rival Taylor 28-20 in a controversial game in the ninth game of their freshman year.
They rebounded to defeat Cameron and win the district title to finish 24-1-1 in that three year span.
Miller plucked quarterback Joe Sanders off that frosh squad for varsity assignment.
As far as anyone can remember, Sanders became the first freshman in history to play quarterback for the Tigers.
Sanders never started, but saw enough spot action to throw for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
With Mark Drake at the helm, Sanders moved to wide receiver the past two seasons and became the Tigers' all-time leading receiver.
Defensively, 6-foot-4, 300- pound Logan David has become the standout of the group and has received notice from colleges all over the country.
Of the 40 players listed on the freshman roster in 2006, through moving away, dropping out of the program, injury or just attrition, only 17 remain on Friday's roster.
As sophomores, eight of those freshmen—including move-in Lance Loewe, who decided against playing football this season to concentrate on basketball— started the season on the varsity and 10 ended up playing by season's end.
"We started out 1-6 and that's probably part of the reason," Miller said. "You're not going to win with that many sophomores. But, about mid-season, they were finally varsity ready and we won the last three."
Against Taylor Friday, four of the fabulous freshmen will start on offense and four on defense.
In a case of great irony, because of back-to-back losses to Navasota and Caldwell, the Tigers are going to have to beat that same group of Taylor Ducks that handed them their first loss three years ago to reach the playoffs for the third straight year.
It would be only the fourth time in school history that the Tigers have gone to the playoffs three years in a row (1975-77, 1997-99, 2002-2004).
While Taylor has been eliminated from playoff contention after losing five of its last six games, this is an extremely dangerous game for the Tigers, who need to win to get in, in the 80th meeting between the two schools.
"It could be dangerous," Miller said. "It means a lot to those Taylor kids."
The Ducks would like nothing better than to spoil their rival's season.
"They can go two ways: they can roll over, which we don't expect, or relax and play with no pressure and that's a dangerous team."
On the other hand, Miller says his team is pretty relaxed itself, having practiced a total of 2 1/2 hours last week."
"The off week has been huge for us. It was not only a great week of practice, but just a great week. The energy and alertness was so much better without that grind. We got a lot of valuable rest."
There are several different scenarios in which the Tigers can claim a playoff berth, but the simplest plan is the easiest— just win.
"After two losses, we've got a lot to prove," Miller said. "It's crucial for us that we play a good game. That would help before we go into the playoffs."
The Ducks are led by uberathlete Mark Jackson, whose availability Friday is in question after he was injured last week in Taylor's 47-0 loss to district champion Caldwell.
"They have three or four of the best athletes in the district, including Jackson and (De- Marea) Kerley," Miller said.
Because of Taylor's poor performance on the season, Jackson— the Class 3A state triple jump champion—has not exactly lit up the district's football fields.
He has only 360 yards rushing (after nearly 1,000 last season) and has caught just 18 passes, but eight have gone for scores.
In the second week of the season in Taylor's victory over Manor, Jackson put together a 90-yard interception return, a 74-yard kickoff return to accompany 113 yards receiving and 92 yards rushing for five touchdowns.
Since then, not so much.
Last week against Caldwell, the 5-foot-9, 160 pound senior carried the ball once for two yards and did not catch a pass.
The Ducks—who have not scored in three weeks—are second-to-last in the district in offense (253 ypg) and third to last in defense (265 ypg).
The Ducks' four wins have come against teams with a 6-31 combined record.
Taylor has won just one district game in each of the past two seasons, both coming against Bryan Rudder, which has yet to post its first league win.
Since dropping back down to Class 3A four years ago, the Ducks are 3-16 in district play. Their first league win was against Rockdale in 2006.
• Cameron's surprising victory over Navasota at Navasota has thrown a monkey wrench into the District 25-3A standings. There are now four teams with two losses. Caldwell, at 5-0, is the only team guaranteed a playoff spot. For Rockdale, it's very simple—win and you're in. However, here are the rest of the playoff scenarios:
Cameron is clearly the odd man out. Even if they defeat Caldwell Friday, the only way the Yoemen get in is if Rockdale falls to Taylor. There is a strong possibility that Cameron could defeat Caldwell and Navasota in 2009—and stay home.
If Madisonville defeats Navasota Friday, Cameron is out and Rockdale and Madisonville are in.
Rockdale can get in with three losses if Cameron and Madisonville lose on Friday.
Cameron actually did the Tigers a favor by defeating Navasota. Before the Yoemen's win, the Tigers' playoff hopes would have rested on Navasota beating Madisonville.
• As far as injuries go, running back Daniel Brooks, who has not seen any significant action in three weeks because of a hip pointer, will be at full speed. WR/DB J.B. Debault is still questionable with shoulder problems, but linebacker Anthony Montoya could be back this week from a strained MCL in his knee. However, it looks like Shane Barcak's senior season may be over because of a nagging shoulder injury he suffered last season and had surgery on in the off-season. The Tigers will get senior Daravious Peters back after academic suspension.
• With his one-yard touchdown against Caldwell, Joe Sanders now stands alone on the all-time list in second place in touchdowns scored with 27, behind Blade Bassler's 35.
• Caldwell's district championship is the Hornets first outright since 1993.
• Time may be growing short for former Tiger coach Robby Clark's tenure at Midlothian. The Panthers are 1-8 this season and have never made a playoff appearance under Clark. He is 12-27 in four years.
2009 Tiger Seniors
4-WR/LB Juan Estrada; 8-WR/DB Brandon Gibbs; 9-WR/LB Justin Elliott; 14- WR/DB Enrique Torres; 18-QB Joe Sanders; 20-RB/LB Steven Folwer; 21-WR/DB Daravious Peters; 22-RB/DB Greg Chelf; 25-RB/LB Matt Farley; 31- WR/DB J.B. Debault; 32 TE/LB Justin Gadison; 35-DL Shane Barcak; 64-OL/DL Clemente Diaz; 65-OL Chris Ware; 73-K Waylon Boyd; 77-OL/DL Logan David; 88-WR/LB Derrick Mynar; 4-WR/DB Keith Rivers.
|THE STARTING LINEUPS|
|ROCKDALE OFFENSE||TAYLOR DEFENSE|
|No.||Pos. Player, Ht.-Wt.||Class||No.||Pos. Player, Ht.-Wt.||Class|
|18||QB||Joe Sanders, 6-2, 190||Sr||65||RE||Ernest Garza, 5-8, 215||Sr|
|22||RB||Greg Chelf, 5-7, 150||Sr||68||RT||Jeremy Hernandez, 5-7,150 Sr|
|4||WR||Juan Estrada, 5-6, 160||Sr||60||LT||Daniel Hyzak, 6-1, 255||Jr|
|9||WR||Justin Elliott, 6-3, 180||Sr||8||LE||Chaston Matta, 5-10, 220||Sr|
|8||WR||Brandon Gibbs, 6-1, 170||Sr||22||LB||Chris McFarlin, 5-10, 185||Jr|
|15||WR||Tyler Wright, 6-3, 180||Jr||15||LB||Sam Jirasek, 5-9, 220||Sr|
|62||LT||LeRaven Clark, 6-6, 230||Jr||52||LB||Kelbie Stifflemire, 5-10, 195 Jr|
|71||LG||Sal Bishop, 6-4, 250||Jr||21||CB||Robert Brenson, 6-1, 170||Sr|
|50||C||Patrick David, 6-0, 235||So||20||S||Justin Fitzgerald, 5-10, 185||Jr|
|64||RG||Clemente Diaz, 5-11, 235||Sr||19||CB||Johnny Reyna, 5-9, 155||Sr|
|76||RT||Dillan Schnerr, 6-4, 250||Jr||7||S||Mark Jackson, 5-9, 160||Sr|
|ROCKDALE DEFENSE||TAYLOR OFFENSE|
|64||NG||Clemente Diaz, 5-11, 235||Sr||16||QB||Ricky Cobia, 6-1, 180||Sr|
|62||LT||LeRaven Clark, 6-6, 230||Jr||32||RB||Jacob Doss, 5-11, 195||Sr|
|77||RT||Logan David, 6-4, 300||Sr||5||H||Lorenzo Stanford, 5-10,195||Jr|
|32||LB||Justin Gadison, 6-4, 205||Sr||7||Z||Mark Jackson 5-9, 160||Sr|
|4||LB||Juan Estrada, 5-6, 160||Sr||10||LE||De-Marea Kerley, 6-2, 200||Jr|
|9||LB||Justin Elliott, 6-3, 180||Sr||11||RE||Chris Lucio, 6-2, 180||Jr|
|6||LB||Derek David, 6-3, 225||So||52||LT||Kelbie Stifflemire, 5-10, 195 Jr|
|1||CB||Terral Brooks, 5-9, 160||Jr||70||LG||Terrence Jackson, 5-9, 220||Sr|
|22||CB||Greg Chelf, 5-7, 150||Sr||50||C||Alex Bogan, 5-9, 220||Sr|
|15||S||Tyler Wright, 6-3, 180||Jr||68||RG||Jeremy Hernandez,5-11,225Sr|
|2||S||Casey Burrough, 5-7, 160||Jr||54||RT||Sammy Dominguez,6-1,255 Sr|