“Where is everyone?”
On his first day of practice in 2009, new Westlake football coach Darren Allman looked out at his freshmen group and pondered.
His first incoming class that late summer day in 2009 numbered only 52, whereas every freshman class since then (2010, ’11, ’12) has been right around 120, making that day stand out all the more.
“I thought maybe we didn’t send out the information out to everybody,” Allman recalled. “We got on the phones and started calling and that was it – it was just a small class of players for whatever reason.”
Allman proceeded with the practice and has watched that group grow for four years now, and the Chaparrals have turned into a standout group led by those freshmen that are now seniors.
“There wasn’t a lot of guys, but it was the right guys,” Allman said. “I’m so proud of our seniors, I think of that first day, and the last four years with them has just been special.”
With 34 seniors on the roster, there has been a lot of retention thanks to the camaraderie and closeness the class had to build, and it turns out it was the perfect group to become the Westlake coach’s first four-year group.
The seniors this season have taken it upon themselves to rally the younger players and veterans together as one, spurred on by the lessons learned in the last four years.
“This senior class – this team – is so close together,” senior Mason Pitts said.
When he took over, Allman made a visit to the middle schools to talk about the football program and made his words count, senior Michael Edwards said.
“He came to the middle school and he was real quiet, he didn’t have a whole lot to say but made his points pretty easily,” he said. “He’s a lot funnier, a lot louder now that we’ve gotten to varsity.”
Senior Carsten Hood remembers the impression Allman made and continues to make on the Chaparral players, as the coach and team seem suited for one another – unassuming and hard working.
“He just has a presence about him,” Hood said. “Your position coach is talking to you and you can see him out of the corner of your eye, and he’ll jump in and put in his words. That was my first impression of him was the things he added on to what my position coach told me, his extra wisdom, so he seemed like the wise guy on the side overseeing everything.”
Allman has put his trust in the senior class. After team meetings, the coaching staff will leave the room and leave the talking in the hands of its captains – Brandon Box, Jacob Mansour, Judge Finley, John Dodd, Chris Canter and Anthony Patino – as well as the rest of the senior class.
“Our captains and us, in general, aren’t loud,” Edwards said. “During the game we all go crazy but we’re all naturally pretty quiet anyway. I feel like at Westlake we’ve always spoken with our play, we’re always smaller, we’re never going to out-size anyone or out-strength anyone but we just go out there, line up, play ball and let it speak for itself. We knew that was the culture here, and we’ve kept it going like that.”
In 2009 the varsity squad went to the state title game and lost in thrilling, but heartbreaking, fashion, with many of those then-freshmen in the stands taking it in.
The small freshman class has taken on the large task of taking a team known as being undersized compared to other top tier programs around to the top, one win away from a state championship berth after early-season adversity from a 1-3 start and a last-minute 14-11 loss to Lake Travis in the district-title deciding game.
At the start of this season Allman mentioned with pride that this was his first four-year group, and his expectations for them were big from Day 1.
“They were a small group to begin with that has really stuck together and leaned on each other because they’ve had to,” Allman said. “We’ve found ways to finish and that’s been the story of this team. We learned the lessons the hard way early in the year, and it’s just turned into quite a team that’s taken us on a pretty fun run.”
Pitts said the group has learned its leadership lessons – what to do and what not to do – from observing the three classes ahead of them.
“Not hating on last year, but last year I could just tell we weren’t as connected, not as bonded,” he said. “The seniors didn’t talk and hang out with the younger kids, that’s important because you’ve got to be one (unit). Everyone has come together and is friends and we do a lot of bonding time outside of football. I think that’s important because you’ve got to trust one another out there.”
On one side of the Class 5A District II bracket are two teams that many expected to make the state semifinal – Katy and Cibolo Steele, which are both state ranked. On the other side, it’s Westlake and Cedar Hill, where a consensus probably had Lake Travis and Waco Midway as the likely teams to make it that far. Steele thumped the Chaps 35-10 in a preseason contest.
“It’s kind of good to get beat sometimes in certain areas so you can learn a lot from it,” Pitts said. “They were thinking LT and Midway. We’re here now.”
Still, Westlake never lost confidence that it could make the state title game with the first group that has known nothing but Allman as the head man.
“We’ve grown closer because every week we want to beat a team that everyone says is bigger than you and faster than you.” Edwards said. “Across the board we average 165, 170 pounds, smallest defense in 5A. That’s just made us closer because we know we don’t have any guys that can just win it by themselves.”
Four years after Allman looked out on those freshmen and wondered where they all were, there is no doubt where this Westlake group has fully arrived.
“The younger guys and seniors are all together, we all hang out with each other and talk to each other inside the locker room and outside of it,” Hood said. “This team is all together, it’s all one.”
Waco ISD a new home
The Chaps had five total home games this season at Chaparral Stadium, and five games on the road during the regular season.
Westlake is getting set to play its third playoff game at Waco ISD Stadium this Saturday, a field and place becoming quite familiar to the team.
With another big crowd Saturday, the Chaps, who technically are the away team, could have a home feeling once again in Waco with a berth in the state championship game in Dallas on the line.
“We’re feeling really good about it, we’ll be right back here in Waco, a place we’re comfortable,” said senior Jacob Mansour after the win against Plano West at Waco ISD Stadium.
Senior Canyon Manske grew up in Waco and, though he has some friends at Waco Midway he wouldn’t have minded going up against, the familiarity of the area is a comforting presence.
“I’ll have some family there,” Manske said.
The Chaparral Stadium ticket booth will be open Wednesday-Friday from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Tickets will also be sold at both lunches on Friday in the Chap Court. Pre-sale ticket prices are $8 for adults and $5 for students, ages 2-and-up. All tickets will be $10 at the gate on Saturday. State semifinalists T-shirts will be sold at the same times.
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