CONVERSE – When December rolls around, it usually means two things at Wagner: Christmas carols and basketball. While some are singing and the basketball team is doing well, it is football that is the headliner. After struggling for years in 6A with Judson, Steele, Clemens, Smithson Valley and others, the T-Birds dropped to a 5A district with SAISD. Add in a nucleus of players sick of losing, and it was the prescription for the best football season in school history. While Judson/Lake Travis will be the main course on Saturday at the Alamodome, the appetizer will be just as good, as the Thunderbirds face Mission Veterans Memorial.
The ‘Birds made the quarters in 2010, but finished 7-7. That team was the only one to ever win a playoff game. This year, they are 12-1, and a win on Saturday morning not only moves them to the semis, but also would equal the number of wins coach Charles Bruce had in his first five seasons at Wagner.
“We have been preparing for this for a long time,” said Bruce. “I can remember back to the day when I got the job, and these seniors walked on campus. It’s been a building process. You have to build a foundation, and then put up the walls, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Many are quick to point out the turnaround is because of the realignment, partly because new Judson ISD school Veterans Memorial took away enough students from Wagner that dropped them a classification, but when you talk to players like QB Tobias Weaver and DE Demarcus Hendricks, it wasn’t realignment luck that got Wagner to December football.
“It’s a blessing for us,” Weaver said. “We are still the same team [as last year]. It’s just more work ethic and everybody came together as a team. Last year, we learned to mature.”
“It’s the team chemistry,” Hendricks added. “We keep each other up, and the teams before were setting the foundation for us, and we are much better.”
Normally, when a San Antonio area team faces the Rio Grande Valley, the local team is “check-marked” to the next round. But, after Landry Gilpan accounted for over 700 all-purpose yards against Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial, a week after beating Wagner-rival San Antonio Veterans Memorial, that check mark is far from certain, especially if he breaks containment.
“We have to contain him,” said Hendricks. “We have to keep him inside, and stay where we are supposed to stay. Our DBs have to hustle and keep moving.”
“We’ve got to stop him from extending plays,” said Bruce.“We’ve got to make sure that we stay in coverage, and as long as we do our job, at the end of the morning, hopefully, the scoreboard will be in favor of the T-Birds.”
Another key is how will Wagner react if the game is close. It has only played one game this year decided by less than 29 points, its Week 2 loss to Judson, and aren’t used to being pushed.
One interesting nugget is that with Wagner playing immediately ahead of Judson at the dome, and with Bruce and Judson coach Sean McAuliffe being great friends, the Rockets will be in the stands and root on Wagner. Then, Wagner will stay and cheer on Judson against Lake Travis.
“We have lots of friends and family at Judson,” said Weaver. “It will be great to watch them win.”
This will be the first ever meeting between Wagner and Mission Veterans Memorial.
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