Keller Fossil Ridge, FW Arlington Heights made playoff leap

Posted Monday, Nov. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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It was the tale of two seasons for the playoff-bound Keller Fossil Ridge and Fort Worth Arlington Heights football teams, both of whom finished near the bottom of their districts in 2012.

The two programs rallied in 2013, practically reversing their district records of a season ago, climbing into the playoffs after watching last year’s postseason from the bleachers.

Arlington Heights coach Phil Young, in his first season as head coach after taking over in January, was determined to lead the Yellow Jackets back to the postseason.

“We wanted to be a playoff team,” said Young, whose Yellow Jackets finished 5-2 in District 7-4A, good enough for third place. “Our off-season was very regimented, very strict, and it was a change of ideas and cultures about what our work ethic was going to be like.

“We told the kids, ‘There’s three seasons: there’s preseason, district, and postseason,’ and we wanted to make sure that we were playing our best football when we were in that third season.”

To fulfill those ambitions, Young then handed over the reins of his team’s offense to an unlikely source, 14-year-old sophomore quarterback Deion Hair-Griffin.

“There’s an old coaches saying that says ‘For every sophomore that you start you’re going to lose a game,’” Young said. “When you have a 14-year-old kid who’s out there on Friday nights in front of thousands of people it feels, to them, like they’re trying to take a drink out of a fire hydrant. The game was pretty fast early on for him.”

The sophomore jitters didn’t last long, though, for Hair-Griffin, who finished the regular season with 2,075 total yards of offense and 25 touchdowns, 15 passing and 10 rushing.

“I thought those numbers would be half that at best and we’d have been happy with that,” Young said. “Once he realized it was all going to be OK, he took off. His teammates deserve a lot of credit for putting him on their shoulders.”

Fossil Ridge, which finished the District 4-5A season with a 5-2 record, good enough for third place, was also led by a quarterback who once started varsity as a sophomore, although as a receiver.

Senior quarterback Jacob Gnacinski turned in a huge senior season for the Panthers, throwing for 2,364 yards and 24 touchdowns. He added another 649 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

“Jacob started every game of his sophomore season at receiver,” Fossil Ridge head coach Tony Baccarini said. “We have a handful of guys that have been playing since they were sophomores and they have taken a real leadership role this year, and it has made our football team a lot closer.”

That group also includes Jordan Simmons, a senior offensive tackle who has been a varsity starter since his freshman season.

“This will be his 42nd varsity football game,” Baccarini said. “That kind of experience is invaluable come playoff time.”

Arlington Heights will play District 8-4A champion Crowley at 7 p.m. Thursday at Elk Stadium in Burleson. Fossil Ridge will face Arlington High at UNT’s Apogee Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

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