In the years since coach Richard Barrett arrived at Kennedale, he has seen steady population growth in southeast Tarrant County.
Mansfield, a one-high-school town as late as 2001, has built four more high schools and more than doubled in size. Arlington, always one of the larger districts in the area, has added more than 6,000 students.
Meanwhile, Class 4A Kennedale remains, as Barrett puts it, “the best kept secret in the Metroplex.”
The 3,147-student school district, with a high school enrollment of 978, is nestled between giants. It’s just west of Arlington, just north of Mansfield and across Interstate 20 from Fort Worth. Kennedale also borders Everman, a district with a Class 5A high school.
But the school has found its niche in the state’s third-highest classification, especially in football this season, as the Wildcats (11-0) enter Friday’s 4A Division I area-round game against Athens (8-3). Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Citibank Field in Forney.
“We’ve got big numbers for a 4A school, but at the same time, we don’t have a lot of people moving in or moving out,” Barrett said. “We stay pretty steady.”
Barrett has parlayed that steadiness into a quietly consistent football program, guiding the Wildcats to the playoffs 14 years in a row.
During that span, Kennedale has renovated its stadium, twice installed synthetic turf and constructed a 70-yard by 70-yard indoor practice facility.
The indoor facility is connected to a weight room and athletic offices that line the west curve of the Wildcats’ green track. Overall, their athletic facilities are comparable to, if not better than, most larger area schools.
“During the summer, a lot of guys from bigger schools, they come here to play with us because they don’t have some of the things that we do,” senior running back Juwan Washington said.
The rest of Kennedale’s programs have flourished in recent years, too.
The boys and girls basketball teams have each reached the state tournament twice since 2008. The boys team lost in the 3A semifinals last season. The baseball and softball teams are regular playoff qualifiers, and the baseball team won the 3A state title in 2011.
In May, the boys track team won the state championship, while bringing home an individual title and winning two relays. The girls team won the 800-meter relay.
“Our athletes are just ready to eat, so I guess that’s where our talent comes from,” senior safety Derrick Williams said.
Some of that track speed has made its way to the football field.
The Wildcats feature a run-oriented offense, led by safety-turned-quarterback Jake Michener and running backs Washington and Ronald Hayes.
Washington is a 5-foot-7 spark plug who runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and serves as the lead leg on the 400 relay. Hays also runs track.
While most major colleges have overlooked Washington because of his size, Barrett and the Wildcats have cashed in on the two-star prospect.
Washington, who has committed to San Diego State, has amassed more than 6,000 career rushing yards. This season he’s run for 2,111 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Kennedale runs variations of the option and the veer, with the goal being to create space for Washington and Hayes. After Washington flies around the edge of a defense for large gain, Kennedale might then hand it to Hayes up the middle.
“We complement each other well,” said Hayes, who has rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns.
It’s hard not to draw the comparisons between Kennedale and its brightest star, Washington.
Smaller than most. Overlooked by some. Consistent as any.
But none of that is of concern to Washington or the Wildcats.
“We’re not too much worried about that,” he said. “If we just go keep winning games, we’ll know that’ll help us out a lot.”
Vikings coach resigns
Arlington Lamar coach Trent Fuller resigned Tuesday. Fuller, who could not be reached for comment, guided Lamar to five playoff appearances in five seasons.
Replacing Fuller will be one of the top priorities for new Arlington athletic director Kevin Ozee, whose hiring was announced Monday.
TV game of the week
The Class 6A Division I area-round game between Mesquite Horn (10-1) and Rowlett (8-3) will air live on KTXA/Ch. 21 at 7:30 p.m. Friday from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.