Jumping from a 4-5 record to an 8-0 start the following season would’ve likely taken even the most optimistic of football teams by surprise.
That would seem especially true for a squad that had yet to post a winning record in its first eight years as a program.
Don’t tell that to the folks at The John Cooper School.
The undefeated start, already securing a spot in the Southwestern Preparatory Conference 3A Championship, has been a culmination of a nearly decade-long process.
“This is the payoff of many years of work and planning,” Cooper associate athletics director and assistant football coach, Scott Holland said. “This group of seniors went undefeated as sixth graders. They struggled in seventh and eighth grade. As freshmen they had a strong season as a JV Team. Last season we had some bad breaks and close calls that cost them some wins.
“This led them as seniors to do what it took to win a SPC Championship.”
To be sure, the Cooper football team has taken some lumps to get to this point. Its 4-5 record in 2017 was the best in the program’s brief history.
“The main challenge we have faced in our young and small program is the lack of players,” senior wide receiver Logan Leax said. “Our team right now only has 35 players which means many of our upperclassmen are playing on both sides of the ball, which is very fatiguing.”
The rampant scoring from Cooper this year has left other teams fatigued more often than not. The Dragons have averaged just over 44 points through eight games this season.
Much of the success can be attributed to senior quarterback Evan Minarovic, who’s accounted for over 3,000 yards of total offense (2,700 yards passing, 366 yards rushing) to go with 44 total touchdowns.
“Evan has been so phenomenal since sixth grade,” said senior offensive lineman Gerald Caraway. “I knew that he was always something special, it was a matter of time till he had a really fantastic breakout season.”
Both Minarovic and Leax are ticketed to play NCAA Division I baseball, with Minarovic committed to Northwestern and Leax committed to George Washington. Junior offensive lineman Kase Harris is drawing interest from several Division I schools and is rated as the No. 19 guard prospect in Texas for the class of 2020, according to Lone Star Prospects.
Holland classified the 2018 campaign as somewhat of a “revenge tour,” handing SPC teams losses that they may have counted on as wins in years past. They had won just six conference games from 2015-17 and have already picked up five this season, with one conference game left on the schedule.
“Our first years, we had kids that wanted to play football,” Holland said. “Many had little to no football experience. We are beginning to get football players interested in coming to Cooper. We are also reaping the dedication to our middle school program.”
The focus on the middle school program certainly went a long way in creating the kind of chemistry that’s been a staple for the Dragons this year.
“I believe that the reason this year is so special is because of how family-oriented our team is and how much we have grown into the program together,” Caraway said. “With many of us playing sixth grade football together, we have grown up and learned each other’s tendencies.”
The wins surely are nice. But the benefit of having a football team at Cooper had already been having a positive effect on its community since the program’s inception.
“Our football program has impacted my life in a way that nothing else really can,” Leax said. “Being under the lights on Friday nights with my brothers is one of the most amazing and gratifying things that I have experienced in high school.”
Cooper is in the midst of a bye week, following a mud-filled battle against Trinity Valley that resulted in 21-0 victory and the securing of a spot in the SPC 3A Championship. It’ll wrap up its regular season on at home on Nov. 2 against Austin SPC Schools before its championship bout on Nov. 10 at Dallas Jesuit.
“Being on varsity as a freshman I was able to see us at the lowest of lows and now at the highest of highs,” Leax said. “We have been through some really rough years and we are finally having the breakthrough year that we have been anticipating.”