It ended earlier than last season, but fans of Mansfield High will be hard-pressed to complain about a football season that yielded a district championship and a trip to the regional round of the playoffs.
Prior to 2008, postseason football was a rarity. Now with eight consecutive seasons of playoff appearances, including four trips at least three rounds deep, Mansfield is included in the annual conversation of area powerhouses.
“What’s happened here the last two years has been a big accomplishment,” senior running back Kennedy Brooks said. “We went five rounds last year, three rounds this year – that’s a big deal for us. We know that Mansfield is a big team now and we helped put us on the map. Next year they just have to keep working, keep grinding. I know they will and they’ll come back and be a dominant team.”
That Mansfield could win 10 games and a district title wasn’t a foregone conclusion entering the season. A coaching transition – albeit a minor one in the grand scheme of things – as well as a significant loss of starters to graduation had many questioning whether the Tigers could live up to their newly raised expectations.
Dan Maberry, previously the offensive coordinator, replaced Jeff Hulme as head coach.
“Obviously I’m different from coach Hulme,” he said. “When you’re trying to set your own expectations and own standards, there’s always going to be some difficulty putting those things in and just getting kids to buy into that. I think there was a lot of buy-in by the entire team.”
The relative familiarity with the coaching staff certainly eased the transition, and Maberry was pleased overall with his first season at the helm.
“I feel like it was a successful year,” he said. “We battled through a lot of injuries and we had a coaching change. There was a lot of different adversity that hit us throughout the year. The kids responded. To me, that defines the successful year – kids stepping up and filling their roles and everyone contributing.
“That’s the thing I thought was really special about this year, was it wasn’t just one or two guys contributing. You get Kennedy Brooks that gets all the stats, but it took everybody buying in and coming together to have the success we did. I absolutely look at it as a successful year, though at the same time you want to go a little bit further.”
Maberry will have his work cut out again to replace guys who have been instrumental in cementing Mansfield’s place in area football conversation.
“Obviously, losing core seniors like Caleb Thomas, Saiid Adebo and Kennedy Brooks, that’s always a challenge,” Maberry said. “At the same time, I feel like we’re more than capable of having the same success moving forward. That’s the challenge of high school football. Teams change year in and year out. My expectations are still going to be high. I feel like we’ve got enough talent at Mansfield and we’ve got great coaches at Mansfield. The expectations for us as a program and a staff are to go even further. That’s the expectation we’re going to set for ourselves and our kids.”
For seniors like Brooks, there were plenty of milestones and memorable moments over the past four years, but what stands out the most to him isn’t so much about the football.
“Just fooling around with my friends and my family,” Brooks said. “I love them like brothers. I love them so much. I wouldn’t be going to OU without them. My offensive line this year and my offensive line last year, the coaches last year and the coaches this year, they helped me so much. I couldn’t be the person I am today without them.”
Defensive back and quarterback Corbin Frederick isn’t among the seniors. As a junior, he’ll be among a class inheriting a lineage of success.
“Our season was successful, but we’d always like it to be better. It’s tough to lose,” he said following Friday’s loss to Cedar Hill. “You’re always kind of looking ahead. We’ve got a young defense. We’ll be all right. It’s tough to look forward at it right now, but we love coach Maberry. We just put our trust in him, ran the system and played our hearts out.”
This senior class will also hold a special place for Maberry, considering it was his first as a head coach.
“A great group of kids,” he said. “There’s a lot of really good football players in that group. Not only good football players but just good people.
“That’s the hardest thing when the last game of the season hits, is saying goodbye to those seniors. That was one of the hardest things I did after the game was just saying thank you to them for all they’ve done.”