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"Every champion was once a contender that refused to give up." Rocky Balboa

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

Anybody that knows anything about our defense at Stillwater High School knows I love me some Rocky! Half of our secondary coverages are named after Rocky trilogy characters (Rocky, Creed, Mick, Clubber, Drago, etc.) We also love some good Jaws analogies, Bigfoot debates, weather apps, and of course...Stevie Nicks! But Rocky quotes are usually very fitting for a lot of our situations.

We just completed a 13-0 season and won the 6AII State Championship in Oklahoma. Obviously we had a great group of players that were better than everyone we played. As often is the case, people tend to be reflective after a season like we just experienced. While the clock was winding down and we were in victory formation taking a knee, I couldn't help but reflect on not just this season, but also the journey that got us to this championship. A journey that was longer than just the 17 weeks of this season. The quote from Rocky definitely speaks to our journey to the STATE CHAMPIONSHIP. Here are just a few thoughts on this journey to a championship.

Our time as a contender is well documented and known by everybody that knows anything about high school football in Oklahoma. We have had some really great teams that ALL lost to the same great opponent in the State Championship Game. So this team knows the history of our program and had a clear understanding that we can have a great team and still not win the championship. They know that "winning it all" requires a level of commitment that few teams can reach.

17 weeks is a long season. Staying sharp and playing well is a long grind. All of those long seasons where we lost the final game conditioned players and coaches for that long season. Also, the games only get bigger and the opponents only get better in those last 3 weeks. You simply have to love the grind! This team LOVED practice! We practice hard and we go fast! A 10 minute segment for us will see 20 reps run. We compete! We have 1's vs. 1's work of some sort everyday except Thursday. In 2016, we could not drive kids that hard for that long. We all learned to love the grind.

Winning matters! Losing in the championship game is worse than losing at any other point in the year. I know that experience far too well. Because of that, we place a premium on WINNING anything we do against another school or even against each other. Last spring we got a schedule for team camp that included a note stating, "There is no trophy awarded for team camp." Our players took that as a challenge to go and be the most dominant team at the camp a mythical trophy! We are literally trying to win a trophy around here on every rep! We lose a lot of those reps but the goal is always the same...WIN! This group totally embraced WINNING above anything else. We did not have any parent meetings regarding playing time. Nobody was complaining about their stats. Several guys played positions out of necessity. There was never a focus on individual achievement or awards. And we were not a bunch of dummies on social media. Just WINNING!

Situations matter! We lost games along this journey because of a small error late in a game or in a critical situation. This season, 2 of our games ended on a Hail Mary pass. In both situations we defended the play perfectly. More importantly, our players and coaches were calm and confident as the play was happening because we had practiced that very situation about 30 times through out the season. We had multiple goal line stands that started with a 1st and goal inside the 5, including one in the championship game. We practice that situation every week and in spring practice. Our players are confident that we will turn people away. That confidence started with our 2018 team that was highly successful on the goal line. Our kids have grown up believing people simply can't get in! We believe pressure make pipes bust! The team that has not prepared for the situation is the one most likely to have pipes busting. We prepare for situations!

Turnovers matter! We have been intercepting passes here at a crazy rate for years. Our 2019 secondary all went on to play college football and they were a bunch of ballhawks. Our DB's grow up watching guys attack the ball! This year's group intercepted 29 passes. What's also awesome is that they only dropped 2 opportunities. I'm not real good at math but I think that is pretty good. On the flip side of that, our offense practically never turns the ball over! We had 4 TO's on the season and only 1 INT! I know...that's crazy! We did not get to this place regarding turnovers in the last 17 weeks. We have been playing and coaching this way for a long time!

Physicality matters! We were the most physical team in ALL of our games this year! We have placed a premium on being physical with our players starting in youth football. We take blocks on differently than anyone strictly because we coach PHYSICAL PLAY above all else. We are not about pretty, we are about running people over. This certainly did not happen in 17 weeks but it sure is cool to see how much pride our players take in being tough guys. Not dirty or cheap...just TOUGH!

Last, Keeping the MAIN thing, the MAIN thing matters! Our head coach, Tucker Barnard, is the BEST at this. Coaches offices, social media presence, coaches feelings, cool Friday night pre-game routine, or even how we line up on defense are not high priority topics. Play-calling, practice organization, player development, special teams, etc. are the things that fill his agenda. If you want a country club atmosphere with a bunch of perks, this is not your spot. A high performing environment is never a place of comfort and the MAIN thing is always the MAIN thing here.

Everyone knows that Rome was not built in a day and I have been a part of losing way more championship games than winning. I do know that the one I just got to be a part of was about a long journey from contender to champion. Contender was nice, State Champs is way better and all of those teams we have had over the years helped us all get here.

I have to include the video of the last few seconds running off of the clock as we move from contender to State Champions!

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