The sign slaps you in the face as you set foot through the front doors of Guyer’s fieldhouse.
“Those Who Stay Will Be Champions” — a pretty simple statement for a program to live by, really.
But let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not like Guyer shocked anyone by winning the Class 4A Division I state championship Dec. 22 in dramatic come-from-behind fashion. It was almost set in stone in August, despite the early season hiccup that put Guyer in a 0-2 hole. But those within Guyer’s program, and most logical outsiders, never stopped thinking that Guyer was the team to beat.
A little more than two weeks ago, the Wildcats finished the job and finally put tangible truth to the statement that’s adorned their fieldhouse for years.
But like I said, that was no surprise to anyone with any pulse on the high school football scene, and that statement wasn’t just brought out of thin air as some kind of sports soothsaying. It was basically Guyer’s right this season, and the Wildcats just had to go seize it, which they did. The kids now in Guyer’s program have not known failure, as this bunch has never missed the playoffs and has made it to at least the state semifinals every year of their high school careers with the exception of 2011, when they went to “just” the second round.
The kids who started the Guyer tradition are long gone, and several were on hand at Arlington’s Cowboys Stadium last month to watch the 2012 Wildcats do something they were never able to do, and they were right there celebrating with them.
However, that sign does have some direct meaning to a special group of players on this year’s state championship squad, a special group of seven.
Junior quarterback Jerrod Heard got most of the attention this season, and deservedly so. His performance in the state final was probably the most impressive individual performance of any of the championship games that weekend. His performance in the prior week’s semifinal win was even more impressive.
But Heard was handed the keys to the Guyer offense long ago, as a seventh-grader when he was basically guaranteed to be three-year starter J.W. Walsh’s successor and be a three-year starter himself. He has one year left in that position to lead Guyer to another title. That’s the goal, anyway.
Not everyone was as entrenched in Guyer’s starting lineup as Heard. Some had to wait their turn to be an impact player, for the longest time possible.
The group of seven seniors who got one year to start and made the most of it comprises Richard Whitaker, Preston Thrailkill, Zach Colpean, Terence Belton, Terrell Singleton, Domenic Pickering and Connor Allen.
Colpean, one of the smartest players on the team, made the most of his one year as the team’s starting center, orchestrating a running game that was one of the state’s best while averaging better than eight yards per carry. One of the guys he paved the way for, Whitaker, was a junior varsity running back for two seasons and continually pumped up by Guyer coaches who insisted he would eventually get his opportunity to shine.
After a breakout game this season against Trophy Club Byron Nelson, Whitaker said he would rather have spent three years on the subvarsity teams and have one year to shine on the big stage at Guyer than go elsewhere as a sophomore or junior and possibly start on varsity.
In 2012, he rushed for 1,280 yards and 19 touchdowns, setting an example for another deep group coming up at running back, led by fellow starter D.J. Breedlove, who will return next year on the heels of his own 1,000-yard rushing season. He’ll set an example for everyone, and he’s not alone.
Belton and Pickering turned into the two go-to leaders on a defensive unit that was in desperate need of it after those two season-opening losses saw them give up a combined 108 points.
Singleton, an undersized outside linebacker, posted 114 tackles and was second on the team with three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown in a district-opening win over Azle.
Then there’s Allen, who followed in a long line of Guyer defensive linemen who were converted linebackers. Allen played on the kickoff team as a sophomore, the year Guyer narrowly lost in the Class 5A Division II title game, and as a backup linebacker as a sophomore and junior.
He entered 2012 as someone coaches were depending on up front, but as an unproven commodity. Boy did he prove himself.
After two games in which the entire Guyer defense looked lost, Allen and his teammates jelled into place, and he just kept getting better as the season wore on.
By the state championship game, Allen had saved his best game for the final one in his high school career, racking up 10 tackles with a huge stop behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-short attempt by Georgetown.
And then there’s the play that changed the tide of the game in the midst of Guyer’s comeback from 16 points down in the third quarter.
Allen delivered a crunching blow to all-state Georgetown quarterback Jake Hubenak, forcing a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Demontrie Taylor on the Georgetown 5-yard line. One play later, Guyer took its first lead since 7-0, when Heard had the game’s biggest highlight-reel play with a punishing touchdown run. The Wildcats never looked back, and 13 minutes and 38 seconds later they were state champions.
In the course of seven seasons, that now-prophetic sign hanging in Guyer’s fieldhouse has gone from being a bit of a joke to outsiders to being a fait accompli around the school’s halls. But it still serves some purpose, even though that ultimate goal has now been reached by John Walsh & Co.
It also serves as a lesson to players who might not be instant superstars. Don’t believe me? Just ask those seven seniors who will live in Guyer lore forever.