You could understand if, for one day at least, Kennedale’s twin diesel engine at running back — D.J. Kirven and Jaden Knowles — had Irving Berlin rather than “Jingle Bells” dancing in their heads.
Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you. Yes, I can!
As No. 7 Kennedale readies for the biggest game in school history against No. 1 Carthage in the Class 4A Division I state championship game on Friday, Kirven and Knowles, and their always-at-the-ready offensive linemen, have no problem finding motivation.
It is in proving that the Wildcats’ ground game more than belongs on the same field as the one in East Texas, which comes with all the bells, whistles and prestige of recruiting stars and a high-profile commitment to an august university.
This game is why competitors get up in the morning.
“He’s one of the premier backs in the state of Texas,” Kennedale coach Richard Barrett said of Carthage running back Keontay Ingram, a Texas pledge with more than 2,000 yards rushing this season. “Our two don’t have that prestige, but combined they have over 4,000 rushing yards. We like that. I can assure you our offensive line likes it.”
Kennedale (14-1) and Carthage (15-0) get going at 11 a.m. Friday at AT&T Stadium.
In Texas high school football speak, the game promises to be a right, smart set-to.
While Kennedale plays in its first state title game, the Bulldogs will be seeking the school’s sixth title in the last 10 seasons, all under Scott Surratt.
Ingram is their most prominent piece, a tall, angular runner at 6-foot-1, and the No. 1 back in the state. He is what “keeps coaches up at night,” Barrett said.
“He definitely helps you get up for the challenge,” Knowles said. “He’s a great running back, but we’re very underrated.
“I feel like we’re up there. I think Carthage is feeling the same about us.”
The Bulldogs are almost certainly feeling the same about a Kennedale team that averages 54 points a game and 350 yards rushing a game. Carthage gives up about 129.5 rushing a game. Something must give.
Knowles has run for 2,258 yards and 36 touchdowns, and Kirven has 2,187 yards and 40 TDs, including 348 yards and five scoring runs last week against Stephenville in the state semifinals.
The two run behind an active and very physical line, led by guard Andrew Flanagan, a first-team Class 4A All-State selection.
While Ingram has been the subject of devotion for recruiters, Kirven and Knowles have not. Their size is thought to be a turnoff. Knowles measures about 5-7. Kirven is just under 5-10.
“I feel like I can do the exact same thing he can do,” Kirven said. “It’s a good challenge. A good person to look up to. Hopefully, this game proves to the scouts I can do as much as he is doing.”
Kennedale also enters well tested, its only loss by three to West Orange-Stark, a Class 4A Division II finalist.
The game will mark the end of a career among great friends.
Knowles and Kirven go all the way back to pee wee football.
And if you think there’s a friendly rivalry between the two, you’re right. Kirven knows Knowles has about 100 more yards than he does. Knowles knows Kirven has four more touchdowns.
They push each other, and it’s all in the name of good competition and the common good. They make each other better, not to mention the team.
“We’re best friends,” Knowles said. “But the competition between the two helps our team. We always try to get more yards and touchdowns. That helps our team.”
As much or more than recruiting, the duo also think about what people will think of them in 20 years.
Kirven is a history lover, and he said he has thought about the history Kennedale is making.
Last year, Kennedale made it to the fifth round of the playoffs for the first time ever. This year, it’s a first state title game appearance.
They plan on being the first state football champion.
“I have faith in our coaching staff in preparing us,” Kirven said. “It’s our job to go out there and execute.”
Said Knowles: “Their defense is fast and well-coached. It’s like a West Orange-Stark defense. It’s nothing we haven’t seen. It will come down to who’s the most physical. Our line has been physical every single game. It’s just how the Kennedale Wildcats play.”