The day high school football players across the nation wait for anxiously every year is hours away — a little more than a day away for those unlucky enough to have to wait until Saturday to play under those lights that have become famous, especially on Friday nights.
But while the anxiety and excitement races through quarterbacks, cornerbacks and the rest of those who make up every high school football team in South Texas and beyond, it also rapidly flows through the veins of coaches, young and old, newbies and veterans.
“That’s why we coaches do what we do,” said Edinburg Vela head coach John Campbell, who is in his third year running the show with the SaberCats, a perennial District 31-6A power. Campbell has been a coach since 1995 and a head coach since 2004.
“It’s funny, I was thinking about this the other day,” he said. “It’s hot outside but there’s something about this time of year where I really enjoy it. I think if you ask some veteran coaches they may not react the same way as some young coaches, but the passion is still there and excitement for that first game.”
Coaches are big into consistency in performance; many agree consistency is the key to growth and improvement. Hidalgo head coach Monty Stumbaugh, who has coached for 40 years at some of the legendary schools in Texas, including Midland, Cuero and Port Isabel in the Tarpons’ powerhouse days, said he still “gets all fired up when it comes to this time of the year.”
Stumbaugh is in his third year with the Pirates and says his players are changing the culture that he and the coaching staff are trying to teach.
“That’s what it’s all about, changing that mindset,” he said. “The first year was a little tough and last year was 2-8, but we have fighters. This is their second offseason with me and things are coming along farther and faster. The kids have found they that they can compete and they are believing. Through consistency and hard work they are believing they can win and they are understanding what team is. We no longer have to go out and try to teach them that.”
Over the years, Stumbaugh has also found consistency away from the field leading up to game days. You can find him and his grandkids eating chicken wings somewhere every Wednesday night — he prefers barbeque sauce on the side (“no hot stuff,” he said) for dipping. And on Fridays, it’s a ritual — “a No. 2 Whataburger, with cheese of course.”
But the most important things are the rituals he and the team develop during practice leading up to game day.
“Right now, it’s the toughest few days, trying to get your final little part of the game plan in, trying to make sure that we are focused to be able to make sure the kids are focused. We are trying to get the final little parts of the game plan in and trying to make sure we are focused and keeping them focused on today, every day.
“You win games Monday through Thursday. Get in that mental state and get ready to play. As far as me, I’m ready to go get ‘em. I love this. When I don’t love this anymore, I won’t be doing it.”
Patrick Shelby is surrounded by excitement — both at school with his players and coaches, and at home with his children and family.
“My kids are always excited,” said the first-time head coach, who is set to lead McAllen High into a Saturday contest at Brownsville Lopez. “They are always excited and like sports and they can’t wait for the season. I come from a football family and they are a football family that loves everything about it. They’ve gotten close to some of the players and administration and can’t wait to get out there for games on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night and see what all the concessions have in store for them.”
Like the other coaches, Shelby’s main focus is making sure that his team is “locked in at the end of the day and they go out and perform at a high level.
“We have to make sure we as coaches don’t lose focus either. I try to stay calm and am pretty back calm and cool. I feel like if I worked up, everybody else will get worked up so somebody has to keep it pretty even — not too high and not too low.”
Even though it may be his first year running the show, Shelby is well aware of the importance and significance of consistency, from the game plan to following the outline every single day.
“I’m glad they are learning and understanding how important it is to keep the same routine,” he said. “For me, I have a lot of superstitions that are part of my routine and I keep that same routine every day leading up to game day, from how I put my sock on to how I put my shoes on. I even have to have the same pencil every single time because I don’t like to write with a pen.”
In the end, however, it comes to what Campbell at Vela calls a repeated cycle putting a premium on what it trying to get accomplished.
“My ritual is to get a normal cycle going and get in the groove as quickly as we possibly can,” he said. “It’s all about being consistent, trying to win each and every play in game that will have 160 or 170 snaps per game. When there is no execution, you see a lot of explosiveness in things like the kicking game. We all want minimal busts and that’s why we go out there every day — to try to develop these kids and these times and being efficient and putting in the effort every single time.
“I love this time of year.”