(Editor’s note: For the full photo gallery of the Anthony Wildcats practice, click here.)
The Anthony Wildcats are used to traveling long distances both literally and figuratively. Sitting less than a mile away from the Texas-New Mexico state line in El Paso County, the 2A school competes in a district that requires travel to games as far as 429 miles away. For more perspective, the distance between Anthony, Texas and Phoenix, Arizona is about 411 miles.
The figurative road to build the program has also been long but now is starting to bear some reward. After winning a combined seven games since 2010, the Wildcats broke out in 2016, finishing 7-4 and earning a playoff berth for their best season in almost a decade. While it was a good sign of heading in the right direction, the team isn’t wasting time to move forward for the upcoming season.
“In order to maintain that success we had from last year, we all have to be on the same page,” said senior running back Jayray Hernandez, “We have the skill and talent to do that but we all need to come together as a family.
Head coach Michael Stephenson is entering his fifth season at the westernmost school in the state. He shares his team’s attitude in looking ahead to the upcoming season but acknowledged that the program has come a long way from when he first arrived and credits the group of 17 seniors from last season as spurring the turnaround.
“I had that group of 17 seniors for four years when I first got here and they were true leaders,” Stephenson said of his Class of 2017, “They all bought in when I first got here and I told them it would pay off it they stick with it in the program and their success is all because of that hard work. Those seniors did a great job of mentoring our younger players and now it’s their opportunity to step up for us.”
It’s a challenge that his players have responded and embraced especially after how the program has changed during their time in the program.
“It’s a huge change,” said senior quarterback Jorge Rivas, “We went from 0-10 to 7-4 and we’ve just seen a huge boost in confidence, support from the community and there’s a lot more competition which is good for everybody.”
In order to come close to matching that 2016 season, the Wildcats will have to replace that core senior group that helped take the program to heights that hadn’t been seen in years. Rivas will be handing off to two strong running backs in Hernandez and Timothy Starritt, who will also see time at linebacker and they’ll be leaned on heavily for Anthony in 2017.
The team also plays with extra motivation as the Wildcats try to get back to the postseason and win a playoff game for the first time in school history.
“We do play with that chip on our shoulder,” Rivas said, “A lot of times we feel like we’re overlooked and people may have no idea where Anthony is but we use that as motivation to get better.”
First things first, there’s another goal that they have in mind: winning a district championship.
“It would mean everything for us to do that,” Starritt said, “All of us have been working since our freshman year for this and after coming close last year, it would mean a lot to win that title and a playoff game and build from there.”
If the Wildcats come out on top in District 3-2A Division I, it would be the first district title for Anthony football since 1982. It’s a goal that Stephenson believes they can achieve and he’s ready to see it come to fruition.
“Our goal is to put a district championship trophy in the trophy case,” Stephenson said to TexasHSFootball.com, “We came close last year but our staff tries to share the same message for not just football but every sport and I think we maintain that consistency, we can keep the momentum going. I don’t think we’ve reached our peak yet.”
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