These wins could be the turning points in a season. The Haltom football team hopes they’re also the turning point for its program.
Consider the miraculous but deserved victories the Buffalos earned in the previous two weeks.
▪ On Sept. 29, Haltom played for the win at Abilene with a successful 2-point conversion midway through the fourth quarter. The defense held the Eagles on downs and the offense ran out the final six minutes to emerge 36-35, at Shotwell Stadium.
▪ This past Friday, quarterback Michael Black found Imiee Cooksey on a 28-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game as the Buffalos escaped from Keller, 29-26. Keller had just taken the lead with less than a minute to play.
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This is how a program evolves from afterthought to contender. Most likely considered District 3-6A game at Keller Fossil Ridge (6-0, 2-0) just another game in the season. Now, Haltom (4-2, 2-0) is playing for the outright district lead at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Keller ISD Athletic Complex.
“Compared to last year, we had a different approach,” Haltom fourth-year coach Jason Tucker said. “We told our players that if we continue to work like we do, we should be a playoff team. Nothing was guaranteed. Every game on our schedule was tough. But we could play with everyone.”
The numbers suggested differently. Haltom returned only eight starters from the 2016 4-6 team that won only one district game. Those eight were among the 13 returning letter winners. The varsity roster currently carries only 41. That’s not even enough to fill a standard two-deep roster without any player playing on both sides of the ball.
Talking playoffs for a program that’s only made the postseason twice this century (2000, 2009) seemed ambitious. Haltom won one game from 2014-15. However, Tucker believed in the substance. Sub-varsity programs were successful. Numbers throughout the program grew. Football became fun again.
“It’s great to know how our program is turning in a new position,” junior quarterback Michael Black said. “I think we all saw the hard work that came with our development. We had confidence to win games like we did [against Abilene and Keller].”
A program’s growth has to start looking good from the inside before it starts looking good on the outside. Tucker has kept a goal of graduating 40 seniors from each team. That won’t happen this year. However, there is a commitment from the seniors to make everything about this season play beyond the second weekend of November.
Talent became harnessed between the senior and junior classes. There are only two sophomores on the 2017 roster. Tucker and his staff are determined to keep younger players at the lower levels so they will get the reps and be in a position to contribute when it’s their time.
Witness Black’s emergence. He was a receiver and played on the junior varsity in 2016. Sliding over to play quarterback in the spring, Black has become a dual threat, throwing for 1,093 yards and rushing for 740.
“The buy-in was the biggest deal,” Tucker said. “We had to get the numbers up because we were real low for a 6A program. If you’re spending a lot of time motivating, that has to change. Motivating is still important. Now, the motivation has come from the kids competing. You get the internal competition going and they motivate each other to compete.”
The Buffalos recognize the Panthers are going to be the best team they will face so far. The outcome won’t alter Haltom’s playoff fortunes. It still has games to play against Keller Timber Creek, Weatherford and Keller Central. One more win might be enough to clinch a playoff berth. Two wins should seal it.
That’s not how this program is looking at it. Black said players have tuned out the noise from these last two weeks and realize they control their destiny.
There is a correlation that good start from the football team can help the school year get off to a good start. Still, the finished product is what counts.
“All we’ve been saying is, ‘Who is our next game?” Black said. “Regardless of the result [against Fossil Ridge], it’s not going to change how we do things. We’re going to come back and work our tails off. It’s the same plan each week.”