It's no secret the graduation of Aledo running back Johnathan Gray opened the door for Birdville to achieve a perfect record and a trip to the Class 4A regional semifinals.
However, few would guess that Gray still impacts Birdville while currently running the ball for the University of Texas.
The UIL on Wednesday denied the appeal of a transfer student to Birdville, agreeing with the district executive committee's original decision that the player had moved for athletic purposes. "He's a junior transfer from Richland High School," Birdville football coach Jim Skinner said Wednesday. "He transferred into our school but did not participate in football this season."
Despite being district rivals, Birdville running back Xavier Turner got to know Gray last year, and picked his brain on their shared position.
"He gave me words of advice, saying keep your head up and work out when others are not working out, and put in the extra effort," Turner said. "I took that advice and went with it and so far it's been successful."
Now in his junior year, Turner has taken just 40 more carries than last year, but exploded to 1,248 yards, 448 more than his sophomore campaign.
Birdville and Aledo also stayed in the same hotel at last season's state track meet.
"The best was being around another athlete that's the same position that I am, that's more skilled, that's giving me words of wisdom at that position," Turner said. "I basically just took that and lived with it."
Turner now lives the life of one of the most successful running backs in the area, and Birdville (12-0) has established a school record for wins.
Another victory would make it the deepest postseason run since the school opened in 1999. Birdville's leading rusher last season, quarterback E.A. Northey, graduated, leaving the reins to quarterback Justin Martin. Coincidentally, Northey's younger brother, Samuel, has been key in opening up the Hawks' offense.
Samuel Northey leads the team in receiving with 60 catches for 791 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"Sam's a tremendous athlete," Birdville coach Jim Skinner said. "He does a good job of running routes and catching the football and he's like a running back when he gets the football in his hands."
The Hawks on Saturday take on Lubbock Monterey (9-3) in Wichita Falls at 2 p.m.
"They're the toughest bunch of kids we've lined up against all year," Skinner said. "They've moved down from 5A to 4A and been in the playoffs 11 consecutive years in 5A. They don't get penalties or busted plays. We're going to have to beat them if we're going to beat them, they're not going to give us the game."
The Hawks have rolled through this season with a chip on their shoulder.
"Coming off that nasty taste in our mouth after the one-point upset to Arlington Heights last year, we all knew right then that we are better than that and want to go farther than that," Turner said.
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