Winters, Ballinger and Miles football teams excelled in 2018.

If you ask any of the varsity football coaches in Runnels County what ‘winning’ means they’ll tell you that it means more than just the numbers on the board at the end of the game. And they mean it because they care about their athletes long beyond the glory days of Texas high school football.

  Winters coach Matt McCarty is the longest tenured at their respective schools. McCarty took the helm of Blizzards football in 2015. Ballinger coach Chuck Lipsey came onboard as the Bearcats leader in May of 2017. Miles Bulldogs coach Charles Boles took the con in March of this year. If you’ve followed them since summer two-a’-days, I’ve profiled each coach and they all, down to a man, are honorable men who care deeply about all of their athletes, not just the football players. Each man is the athletic director of his respective school in addition to being the head football coach.    

  They lead by example and with their hearts. In one practice in August I watched Lipsey take some one-on-one time with a player to teach him out to properly pitch the football as they walked up and down the field working on the fundamentals. Lipsey sounded more like a father in the back yard with his own son rather than a stereotypical grinding Texas high school football coach that is constantly yelling at his players. But, it’s not to say that Lipsey doesn’t give some loud encouragement when needed, as he pointed out to me, “I’ll yell at them at times to motivate them, to make corrections. But I’ll be the first one to put my arm around their shoulder and hug them when they get something right.”  One player was talking to another player as I was taking photos and asked them about their coach, “He’ll get on our butt when we mess up. But I think we’re all more worried about disappointing him than pissing him off.”

  Winters Blizzards’ coach McCarty pointed out to me, “It’s about the Jimmies and the Joes and not the x’s and the o’s.” McCarty has a quiet countenance on the sidelines, leading with his calm demeanor and teaching his players to trust in him and each other, “Our players trust us when they know that we’re putting them in then best position to win.”

  McCarty’s fourth year has found success, leading his team from the front. McCarty is quiet on the sideline as his coaches call out to the players on the field. He’s never spoken of it but it’s obvious that his trust in his assistant coaches builds the confidence of the players in those assistant coaches and in McCarty himself. Many times on the sidelines you have coaches yelling constantly and may have 2 or 3 assistant coaches yelling to different position players. That seems to sometimes cause more confusion than anything else. Players see that the head coach trusts the assistants so they therefore trust them. There is no mistake who is in charge of that team when you see them on the field. When McCarty speaks, they all listen intently. His voice is the only one you hear when he’s addressing the team during timeouts.

  Miles Bulldogs’ Coach Boles has earned the respect of his players. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, he doesn’t demean; he builds. He builds a football team, he builds players and he builds them into productive young men. Boles is a man who has twice defeated lymphoma and that tenacity and appreciation for the important things in life is part of what fuels him. He turned around a 2017 that lived in the cellar and made them into a playoff contender this season.

  To see the true impact on the field, we need to look at the numbers over the last two seasons. In 2017 the combined win/loss record for the three teams was 10 and 23. As a whole they won fewer than 50% of their games. This season they turned that around and went 22 and 12 collectively.

  In 2017, Lipsey’s first season, the Ballinger Bearcats were 2-8 overall and 1-3 in district. Lipsey took over a program that had gone 3-7 in 2016 while going 2-2 in district. It takes a lot to turn a team around that had found little success in previous seasons.

  In 2016 the Bearcats gave up 39 points per game, in 2017 that number dropped to 35 points per game and this season it dropped to 22 points, a drastic change. This season he did this with a team with a defensive and offensive line that concerned him due to a lack of depth. But time and again the players stepped up when asked. Junior quarterback Edgar Nunez stepped up his play to the next level and became a true leader.

  Nunez is a clutch player and can score on the ground or through the air. He’s also their kicker. He will be a fearsome opponent for offenses in 2019 and they will have to game plan around stopping him. Some of the other players that will be returning next season are Tyler Vaughn, Weston Rollwitz, Garrett Zertuche, Jon Gutierrez and Colton Belk. Returning weapons such as Cooper Bean, Adolph Median, Jayden Rivera McDuffee and Garrett Zertuche will be a constant issue for opponents on both sides of the ball.

  Graduating seniors such as Damian Willborn, Cody Harral, Deaundre Manley, Ashton Belk and the rest of the players in the class of 2019 will leave big shoes to fill, especially after such a successful season as this year. If it’s one thing that the Bearcats have shown it’s that they are up to the challenge, any challenge. From the coaching staff to the players they’re all focused and determined to give their best every game.

  The Miles Bulldogs went 2-9 overall in 2017 and 1-4 in district play to 7-5 overall and 4-1 in district play this year. In 2017 they gave up 344 points over 11 games while only scoring 208 points. This season they flipped that around and score 295 points while giving up 243 points on their way to a 2018 playoff berth. During summer practice coach Boles was addressing his players and told them, “We play offense, defense and special teams. Three-way football, that’s just what we do.”  The players bought into his coaching philosophy and have followed his lead, answering the bell every time he asked them to.

  The offense was led by experience with senior Jared Flores at quarterback and senior Mason Bryan at running back. They put a lot of tough yards on the ground and ran hard, punishing tacklers as they forced the ball across the goal line time and again. The Bulldogs’ defense stepped up and did a good job at slowing their opponent’s run games and all but stopping the passing game.

  The culmination of the season was on November 2nd when they defeated a strong Christoval team by a score of 21-20, digging in their heals and stopping the Cougars by sheer will alone. It was an emotional win and fans stuck around for 30 minutes after the game, celebrating as if it were a championship game. That game showed the resolve that Boles and his staff have instilled in their players. The emotion flooded over everyone from coach Boles, his staff and their players. The game was about as epic of a game as you could have in the regular season. Boles, the staff and the players left it all on the field that chilly fall night.

  There will be significant losses with the graduation of Flores, Bryan, Noel Sanchez, Corley Russell, Sterling Barker and others. They had several freshmen and sophomores on the team this year so that experience will help them fill those gaps next season and there isn’t any reason that they shouldn’t come away with another winning season in 2019.

  With 2018 being McCarty’s fourth year directing the football program in Winters it was the first season he had had seniors since they were freshmen. His tenure began with him taking over the team that had gone 10-2 in 2014 under coach Stan Caffey. In 2015 the Blizzards finished at an abysmal 2-8. The following season of 2016 didn’t see any improvement as they went 2-8 once again. In 2017 they started heading in the right direction and went 5-6 with a playoff birth. This season was when the pieces all fell together.

  The Blizzards Blitzkrieg defense showed serious potential early by holding their first four opponents to 0 points, 6 points, 0 points and 14 points, respectively. They then hit a rocky patch and strung 3 losses together to Iraan, Hawley and Stamford. They polished off Forsan and Ozona and went into the first round of the playoffs against 6-4 Alvord Bulldogs. Once again their vaunted defense stepped up to the plate and held Alvord to 7 points while the offense put up 26 points. Senior quarterback Javon Young led the powerful offense. Young answered the call every time and became a master at cutting and changing direction in mid-stride, leaving defenders tackling ghosts.

  The Blizzards won the bi-district championship and made it to the second round of the playoffs when they traveled to Lowery field in Lubbock to take on the Panhandle Panthers. They came up short in that game but fought hard the entire game and never gave up. Their 8-4 record was indicative of the solid season that they had and bodes well for the team next year if they can build on the 2018 successes.

  Seniors Nick Brown, Slater Lindley led offense juggernaut with Young but they will all be graduating this year and will leave big holes to fill in. Cameron Perkins and Patrick Reyes led the defense and they too will be graduating.  

  Fortunately McCarty has sophomore Alex Salas, junior Sema’jae Jackson, sophomore Malakye Kelly who have experience and got some quality snaps this year. He also has junior Miguel Rodriguez with quarterbacking experience and who appears to be the heir-apparent to Javon Young. Filling Young’s shoes will be no easy task. Young’s fleet-footed running that okie-doked defenders up and down the field the perfect mix of talent honed and experience. His leadership will leave the biggest fissure that will need to be bridged by whoever steps into the quarterback role.

  Nick Brown put 274 yards on 23 rushes against Stamford. That was an average of 11 yards per rush. He put up gaudy numbers like that time and again and his power running mixed with Young’s Ali-like footwork was a deadly 1-2 combination for opposing defenses. If the defenses were soft up the middle, Brown could put his head down and bulldog his way for significant gains. If the defenders couldn’t get containment on the ends then Young was about to run end-around plays and scored from over 50 yards out several times. He also has a strong, accurate arm that often found Salas or Jackson open for large gains and points.   

  That core will be missing but McCarty has built a team and not individuals and while the core will be young, McCarty will see to it that they have the tools that they need to win.

  As we head into the holidays and celebrate family time the coaches and players from the Runnels County football teams can reflect on truly successful seasons that made their respective communities proud. They played hard and never took a play off. The coaches have built their kids into young men and formed them into a team. You have to build a team before you can put points on the board and if you build it right all else will fall into place. McCarty, Boles and Lipsey have done that and they’ve done a damn good job of it.

  The players want to play hard, they want to win, and they want to prove themselves with each play but most of all, to a man, they don’t want to disappoint their communities, coaches and schools. That is a testament to the impact these coaches have on the lives of their young men, lessons that will be carried by them far into the future, long after the stadium lights have dimmed and life has carried them further along the path into the future.