Since arriving in Splendora, Texas –the home to the Class 4A Wildcats – the biggest challenge Marcus Schulz had to get his program to overcome simply was having belief in themselves.
It was the belief that they could win football games.
“That was one of the biggest hurdles and that’s been one of the biggest hurdles,” Schulz said of the early struggles.
Prior to his staff’s arrival for the 2014 season, Splendora hadn’t had a winning season or made the playoffs since 2007.
Sub-par seasons were the standard. The standard and culture had to change and it was going to take work.
The Wildcats pushed through 1-9, 3-7, 3-7 and 2-7 records prior to the 2018 season. In his tenure at Splendora, Schulz was 9-30 as the Wildcats’ head coach.
This season the perception of Splendora has changed drastically.
On Friday, Splendora defeated Lumberton 24-20. It was the Wildcats’ eighth win of the year and with it wrapped up the District 11-4A-DI Championship. The first district title since 2007.
“It means a lot to us as coaches,” Schulz said. “To see these kids and the reactions on their faces after the game. Just thinking back to when we got here almost five years, what we’ve been through, and what these kids have been through. They’ve bought in and sold out to our program and what we’ve been trying to do here in Splendora.
“To see everything come together and see these kids having the success they are having and the hard work they’ve put in pay off, it’s phenomenal.”
The eight wins are the most for a Splendora football team since 2000 when the program went 8-3.
With a win against Bridge City this week to close out the season, the Wildcats will be a nine-win team for the first time since 1991.
“Our kids are finally seeing that they are good enough to compete with people,” Schulz said.
Through the tough years, Schulz admitted he saw this coming.
He saw the work the players would put in every day during the season and then in the offseason. They were buying in to the program and continued to do what they told them, Schulz continued and saw things turn in the spring.
In the spring, Splendora changed its offense, with the help of Co-Offensive Coordinator Chip Keel as they changed to the run-pass option, and also put the players through 15 weeks of culture classes. The winning culture was instilled.
The point of the season where he saw that winning culture take hold was after the win against Livingston. It was an 87-21 victory. But more importantly, it was Splendora’s third-straight victory.
“It takes 21 days to form a habit,” Schulz said. “So, we let them know after that third victory we had in a row, now it’s a habit. You know how to win. You’re not a loser; you’re a winner. This is what winning feels like and now you don’t know how to lose anymore.”
Since then, Splendora hasn’t lost.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, Splendora has won six-straight games and have accomplished two of their goals set out in the spring – make the playoffs and win a district title.
“I think it is going to become an expectation,” Schulz said.
With all the success, Schulz knows he couldn’t have gotten here without his coaching staff.
“They’re huge, they are the backbone of what we do,” Schulz said. “They’ve got all the credit, I just kind of sit here and watch them work. It’s fun to watch every one of my coaches.”
Splendora’s two coordinators, Jeremy Willis (offensive coordinator) and Robert Deheck (defensive coordinator) have been with him the entire ride, dating back to his time at Hillsboro.
“Coach Willis and Coach Deheck they’ve been with me for eight years,” Schulz said. “Came with me from Hillsboro. Came into Splendora with a lot of unknowns. Moves, four hours away and it’s very rewarding to see them and rewarding for us to be able to share this together.”
To get to this win mark it has taken some playmakers to make the plays and Splendora has had them all over the field.
Seniors Jessie Paris and Kyle Weber have led the charge in the backfield, rushing for a combined 1,304 yards and 17 touchdowns. Tyler Gamble has been the top receiver with 843 yards and 12 scores. Dylan Matthews has also been big with 499 yards rushing, 261 yards receiving and four total scores.
Where Splendora has had a big boost is at quarterback. Wildcats’ junior Cody Thorndyke stepped in early in the season and has been phenomenal.
In eight games, Thorndyke has passed for 1,372 yards completing 62 percent of his passes and thrown for 19 touchdowns with no interceptions.
“For a kid that coming in not necessarily was the starter. Wasn’t the starter for the first game and a half and was able to come in got the hot hand and we’ve rode him the whole way,” Schulz said. “He’s been huge for our offense.”
Defensively, Justice Mosley has been big, Schulz said, including having 14 tackles, blocked extra point and game-winning interception against Lumberton for the district title.
So, after year after year of being on the wrong side of the record, Splendora is winning. Winning big, small and in every way a team can. In the process they and the community are enjoying the ride and hopefully continue it into the program’s first-ever playoff victory in two weeks.
“Winning is always fun,” Schulz said. “It’s like that old cliché, if you build it they will come. If you win they will come. Not that our fan base hasn’t been there, our community has been huge. It’s fun to see our community come together and everybody come together and see these kids grow day in and day out."
Splendora closes out the regular season on Friday against Bridge City.