The Turnaround: Estacado Wrap

The Turnaround

by Jason Strunk
Lubbock High School Head Football Coach
Follow @WestTXCoach

WOW…what a game on Friday night against Estacado!  The Lubbock Westerners dropped a heartbreaker, 24-17, before a large homecoming crowd.

There are so many things I can write about in this blog.  Almost too much to write.  The game was a see-saw battle of momentum.  And, it basically came down to who had the ball last.

LHS trailed 17-3 at the half.  My halftime message?  It was this, in about as monotone of a voice I can possibly use, “What are you doing?  You look like you have never played the game before.  At some point you need to get tired of this.  What are you doing?  The room is yours.  Fix it.”  With that, I walked out of the locker room and started making adjustments with the offense and defense.

We came out and took charge in the second half.  We tied it at 17.  Our defense controlled the second half and our offense chipped away.  It was awesome to see.

With 1:50 left in the game and the ball on the 50 yard line, we faced a 4th & 3.  Without hesitation, I said go for it.  We lined-up with the wrong personnel and I had to call a timeout. The kids came over to the sideline.  I asked them, “do you want to try to win this right here or play for overtime?”   Unanimously, they said let’s go for it.  We did.

On 4th and 3 we ran left and got stuffed for a loss.  We controlled our own destiny.  If we get that first down, I think we win the game.  Here is my split second thought process for the most important moment of the game:

1. I don’t want to go to overtime with Estacado.  Playing for OT, meaning we punt, is not my style.  I watched Notre Dame play for OT and lose to Texas in OT.  I wasn’t going to go home saying I shouldn’t have punted.  No way.
2. We had momentum and controlled the second half.  I felt if we get this first down we are going to win.
3. We haven’t had a good punt all night.
4. My gut told me that no matter what happens, we get stuffed or we punt, Estacado was going to score and beat us.  In that moment I felt that this was it. We get this first down…we are going to win.  Anything less than that, we were going to go down. Unfortunately, the latter happened.

So we got stuffed. Our defense, which stopped Estacado every single drive of the second half, took the field.  Four previous times, Estacado took over with similar field position.  The defense stoned them, but my gut is never usually wrong.  Estacado marched down the field and scored with 56 seconds left.

When we got the ball back, we fumbled on the second play, thus ending the game.

In crunch time, I went with my gut. I will make that same decision again when faced with it.  I have no second guessing going on in my mind.  Not one bit.

I have faith in my guys.  Faith in my coaches.  I showed a tremendous amount of confidence in the players and coaches with the game on the line.  It didn’t work out this time, but our time is coming.

Getting Closer

Speaking of “our time is coming”, we are getting closer each week.  This team gets better each time out.  I expect the same this week.  We are going to find a way to punch through and before it is all said and done, we will shock someone.  The only people who will not be shocked?  Our own locker room.  Just sit back and watch.

Attitude, Effort

Our mantra this season is to play and practice with attitude and effort.  Nobody can ever take that away from us.  We control “we”.  Four games into this season, the attitude and effort is right where it needs to be.

I know this.  We are not the most talented team on the field.  We get by with effort.  We play teams that are more athletic than we are, but we play harder than our opponents.  We play hard and we play harder when needed.

You need to be ready to play four quarters when you line up against us.  We will not quit.  We will not relent.  We are a bunch of fighters.  You will not break us and you cannot break our attitude and mindset.  We will just keep coming at you.

This team is awesome.  They have bought in.  We are getting by on grit and toughness.  We are pushing teams to the brink because we play hard.  Nobody can ever take that away from us.  We are going to come after you. Eventually, we are going to flip the
win-loss column.

Our kids get disrespected daily.  They hear all the time how bad they are.  The common line is, “you guys suck.”  Imagine hearing that every day in your own hallways.  It is mind-numbing.

This has been going on at LHS for 40+ years.  The problem didn’t start with my current team, they weren’t even born when LHS began their struggles.  But, they pay for it every day.  My players pay for the past 40 years of struggles.  It isn’t right.  It isn’t fair.

My message to them on a daily basis is life isn’t fair sometimes, but you need to keep moving along.  You cannot let negativity get to you.  Tune-out the noise is theme every day.  We control “we.”  The naysayers do not suit up for practice.  They do not come in on weekends.  They do not matter.  The naysayers have no clue what we do.  Truth be told, they couldn’t handle the rigors of a football season and the stress that comes with it.  That’s why they don’t hit the field with us.

What I am telling you is this: we play hard and we don’t care what you think of us.  You better show up to play when LHS is in the stadium.  We aren’t going anywhere.  We will fight you to the death, if need be.

This is a special group of young men.  They are figuring life out through the ups-and-downs of football.  They are relentless in their pursuit of progress.  They want to win and they work for it.

There are coaches in this state, and other states, winning state titles yearly.  They wouldn’t last a week in my chair.  This is a special place and it takes a special coaching staff to persevere.  This job isn’t for the weak.

Attitude and effort.  It’s life and football.  We will continue to march forward, with total disregard for naysayers.  We will play hard and give you all you can handle.  I will make sure this happens until the day I die.

I love this team and the young men in that locker room. They are fantastic kids. We are in this together.

That’s all I have to say about all that.

We are FIO’ing!!!

About the Author

Jeff Fisher
Jeff is an award-winning journalist and expert in the field of high school sports, underscored with his appearance on CNBC in 2010 to talk about the big business of high school football in America. Jeff turned to his passion for high school football into an entrepreneurial venture called High School Football America, a digital media company focused on producing original high school sports content for radio, television and the internet. Jeff is co-founder and editor-in-chief of High School Football America, which is a media partner with USA TODAY High School Sports.