Big things are happening with the Millsap football team.
Actually, the first big thing this season is happening about 100 miles down the road in Waco. For the first time, the Bulldogs will play in McLane Stadium at Baylor University.
The experience will be unlike any the players have ever experienced before, being played under the lights at the home of one of the nation's top-five college football programs. Kickoff against Valley Mills will be 7 p.m. tomorrow night (Sept. 3).
"I feel very blessed to get the opportunity to go play where no other team from Millsap has before," said junior linebacker/running back Kody Wages.
First-year head coach Jacob Johnson said the idea for the game came from some personal connections.
"I have a good relationship with some people there and they pointed me in the right direction," he said.
"It gives these young men a chance to experience things they will never forget."
Johnson inherited a program that finished 4-6 after getting off to a 3-0 start. He sees playing their season opener in such a high profile stadium as another way to show that Millsap is serious about becoming a contender in football.
"It helps drive the point that football is important in Millsap and we are committed to establishing a tradition of excellence here. I want these young men to have a first-class program," he said.
"I was fortunate to start my career in college, and have coached in a state championship game, playoff games etc. This is a unique experience because I want these young men to dream bigger and not put limitations on themselves. And what better way to make that statement than to start with such nice honor?"
The game follows the lead of the boys and girls basketball teams and a special experience they've enjoyed in recent years.
"This experience is similar to our basketball teams playing at the American Airlines Center the past two seasons," said Millsap Superintendent Dr. David Belding. "Those games have been in cooperation with the Dallas Mavericks and have been very special opportunities for the players, fans, and coaches. Our students have enjoyed the opportunity to play where the best players in the world perform. It is a great experience for everyone."
Johnson has coached at a variety of levels in both high school and college as an assistant, mostly defensive coordinator/offensive line coach. This is his first head coaching gig, and he is excited to begin his career in such a momentous contest.
But, he stresses to his team that this is, after all, still just one of 10 games on the regular season schedule.
"Obviously, being the first game it is big, but we really try to focus on us and not all the extra," he said. "I tell the boys that no matter who we are playing they are just the next opponent. Nothing more, nothing less. Our main focus has to be on ourself and our execution. And we will approach this game no differently."
The players, while excited about opening in such a venue, are also looking at the bigger picture.
"There is a change coming in Millsap that no one is expecting," said senior quarterback/outside linebacker Nick Lucia.
"I have been here my whole life, and there is a different feeling in Millsap than we have ever had. It is like an awakening," added junior offensive/defensive lineman Cole Tipton.
"This is such a great opportunity for our players, cheerleaders, band members, and fans to experience one of the premier facilities in the state and country," said Belding. "Coach Johnson is to be credited with having the vision to pursue the game and give our kids a chance to play or perform on a big stage. This is something our kids will remember for the rest of their lives."