The Stephenville football pedigree is a proud one.
Under the direction of Art Briles -- the coach responsible for putting Baylor back into college football's consciousness -- the Yellow Jackets won four Class 4A state titles in the 1990s. While the Jackets have had success since, a climb back to the pinnacle of the playoff mountain has proved elusive.
Stephenville (11-1) vs. Kilgore (11-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday,
Newsom Stadium, Mansfield
Carthage (11-2) vs. El Campo (13-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday,
Umphrey Stadium, Beaumont
Art Briles coached Stephenville to Class 4A state championships in 1993, '94, '98 and '99 and seven district titles between 1988-1999. Those teams advanced to at least the area round of the playoffs all 11 times, and reached the state quarterfinals eight times.
Since 1999, Stephenville has advanced to the playoffs 11 times with one appearance in the state semifinals.
Stephenville has reached the state quarterfinals in 4A in three of the past four seasons; the other season ended in overtime to eventual champion Aledo in the area round.
That could soon change. The Jackets are in the Division I state semifinals and are favorites, many believe, to win another state championship -- this time in Class 3A.
While Stephenville's enrollment has remained steady, schools in communities closer to large population centers have grown, and the most recent realignment bumped the Yellow Jackets from 4A to 3A.
Though some observers assumed Stephenville would thrive at the 3A level, players and coaches are quick to point out that no one is simply handing them victories.
"The level of competition is definitely still there in 3A," senior defensive end Chase Varnado said. "A lot of people think it might be easier for us because we dropped down a level of classification, but the teams are still good."
"There's obviously great football being played right now [in 3A]," said coach Joseph Gillespie, who pointed out that Friday's opponent, Kilgore, advanced four rounds deep in the 4A playoffs last year.
Gillespie said he feels as though 3A might be a better fit for the Yellow Jackets from an enrollment perspective, considering Stephenville was always among the smallest schools in 4A, but for many fans the shift down in classification has only intensified expectations.
"People say the expectations just increase," Gillespie said. "But there's always been a great deal of expectations here at Stephenville. We'd have it no other way."
It's not just fans who have expectations. The players themselves have set a high bar for success.
"I feel like it is ours to take, honestly," Varnado said of winning that fifth title.
Players and coaches at Stephenville don't really care what classification they're competing in -- they feel like they can be the best team on the field.
"It runs down from our coaching staff," Varnado said. "Coach Gillespie always says he'd put us up against anyone in the state just because of how we work and everything we do. He has that much confidence in us, which wears off on the players. ...I believe that we could line up against any classification. I have that much confidence in our team."
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