Austin-American Statesman sports writer Michael Adams once wrote he was almost certain Bowie Head Coach Jeff Ables could ‘put a team of players that have never touched a football and coach them into a winner.’ Ables certainly has turned the Bulldogs into consistent Austin-area threat, with ten straight playoff appearance and a district title as recently as last season. Ables was kind enough to give us a bit of his time to talk about a myriad of things, including how he feels about the 2017 version of his squad and what it means to him to be a Texas High School Football coach.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Here at TexasHSFootball.com, we’re big believers that even in this spread-you-out, basketball-on-grass era of football, games are still very much won in the trenches. Having said that, who are your big guys up front on offense, and how do you feel about that unit going into the fall?
COACH ABLES: Up front, we have some young guys and a couple seniors. At center, we got Peyton Moreland. (We also got) Cooper Laake (and) Steven Rolan. Cameron Williamson is our returning guy from last year. He’ll be a senior this year, just to name a few of those guys. Also, R.J. Hernandez. They need some work. They just need some experience. Two of them, Hernandez and Cooper Laake, played defense last year. We cross-trained them both ways so they’re going to play both ways for us this year, or be able to play both ways. So that’s definitely one of the areas that lack experience but they’re good kids, they’re smart guys that are going to work hard and get better each week.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Over the years, y’all have built a reputation as being a tough, gritty football team. Do you take pride in coaching a squad that is associated with those attributes?
COACH ABLES: Sure, if people are saying that, that’s awesome. We like to run the football, but we also will take what the defense is giving us. We feel confident in our passing game. But, yes, if that’s how we’re described, that’s definitely a compliment.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: With wide receivers Elijah Higgins and Aizayah Santiago returning to give y’all some nice weapons on the outside, how excited are you about the potential of this offense?
COACH ABLES: Those are great receivers right there and then there are some young guys coming up that will also step in and help as well. We’re excited. We know that we have some holes to fill and lots of work to do, but that’s what practice is for and that’s what those two scrimmages are all about, and then five non-district games to get better before we start district.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: The defense returns five starters including stalwarts like M’Elijah Wesley and Cooper Laake on the defensive line, Josh Smith-Macauley and Pierce Withers in the secondary and Brennan Rogers at linebacker. How confident are you in a defense that returns key players at all three levels?
COACH ABLES: We feel good about it. I don’t know if you mentioned Quintavious Buckner. He’s returning also at corner so both corners are back. We’ve got some good guys to step in that played a little spot play last year. At linebacker, with Brennan Rogers, Justin Forte is one of those guys. So we feel good about that and we got those guys that you mentioned up front along with R.J. Hernandez, who also was playing offense but he’ll be able to play both ways, and then some young guys coming up from our JV are returning lettermen that we feel good about. But they just got to get in just like those other guys I was talking about on offense. They just got to get some experience. That’s what this preseason, scrimmages and non-district games, that’s what that’s all about, getting them ready to play for district.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Last year y’all went three rounds deep in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and just the second time in your 15-year tenure. How much confidence does that give y’all going into this coming season? And what’s it going to take to go even farther in 2017?
COACH ABLES: Well, every one of these kids knows last year is behind us. It’s over with, and that’s not going to get us anything this year other than we know, these kids know, what it takes to get there, and what you have to do, and what you can’t do if you want to get there. And some of it is a little bit of luck, you know, staying healthy and getting some breaks, but we always are talking about raising that bar, and certainly this group of seniors that we have wants to continue to do that. That’s easier said than done because in Texas the competition is good every week. Our guys know that. We’ve drilled that into them since they were freshmen, that every week is a new week, and whoever you step out on the field with is going to be good enough to beat you if you don’t play well.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: From 2012-2015, y’all played in a district with both Westlake and Lake Travis. But in 2016’s realignment, you were put into a league that is a lot easier to win and ran through the district slate undefeated, winning every game by at least 16 points. Do you think that gave y’all some extra swag going into the playoffs, or would you rather go back into a tougher district where you can get more throughly tested over the latter half of your schedule?
COACH ABLES: We don’t control that so we don’t really concern ourselves with that. Certainly, Westlake and Lake Travis are strong programs, but that’s not something that we have control over. We don’t look at it as they were easy games. Those teams we played fought hard and did a good job, and they’re going to do the same thing this year, and be even better with a bunch of them. I don’t know if that contributed to it at all, really. When you get into the playoffs, the big thing is you’re concerned about you, and your team, and how you’re playing together, and the things that you’re doing and eliminating mistakes, things like that. You’re not really concerned about what we did, or swagger, because we want them to be confident, but we also know that, you know what, anybody that steps out there on the field with you, if you’re not ready, and you’re not prepared, they’re going to hit you in the mouth and you’re going to be upset at the end of the night.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Special teams are often an overlooked part of the game, yet time after time we see games decided by a missed kick, a botched punt or a big return. How important do you think special teams is? And who are the guys that will be playing those roles for y’all this year?
COACH ABLES: It’s huge and everybody knows that. The thing you have to do as a coach is you have to emphasize it. I think it starts with the head coach. If the kids know you’re not interested in it, or you don’t emphasize it, then it’s not going to be important to them. When they know that you’re involved in it, and you’re helping coach it, and you emphasize it on a daily basis, they know that it can either help you win ball games or get you beat. Around here we like to say it’s going to help us win ball games because we’re going to work it and work it hard. And everybody does, so it’s huge, it’s a big part of the game. It’s one-third of the game and we’ve had some good guys in the kicking game. We’ve got a couple of kickers that can kick that ball and both of them are a little different. Nick Medina is back. John McCormick is back. Aizayah Santiago punting the ball is a great athlete, as you know. And guys that can return kicks as well. Pierce Withres, Aizayah (Santiago), Elijah Higgins, all those guys are dangerous athletes that if you kick it to them and you block things right, they got a shot.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: You’ve been the head coach at Bowie for 15 seasons, and before that you were an assistant under Bowie’s previous coach, Tommy Cox, for 14. That’s 29 years as a Bulldog. How grateful are you of Bowie High School for giving you this opportunity?
COACH ABLES: It’s been my life for 30 years. It’s been my families’ life for 30 years and I’m grateful to Coach Cox because without him I wouldn’t be here. One of my best friends. Great man, great mentor, (and) great friend. I’m thankful to him and I’m thankful to this community for allowing me to coach these kids so long. Everyday, it’s a blessing. Every night when I go to bed or in the morning when I wake up, I thank God for the opportunity not only to be here, but just to be a coach because I think that’s a special calling and a lot of responsibility that goes with that. I’m very blessed to be able to raise my family here. My girls are grown and out of school, and you don’t get to do that at a lot of places. Like I said, I’ve been blessed to be here for that long. It’s a good situation.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Central Texas High School football has been on a major upswing the last ten years. How do you feel the competition in this area has changed over the last decade?
COACH ABLES: I think there’s a lot of good athletes, good players, and I think the big deal is every team in this area is well-coached. The coaches do a great job and the kids play hard and there’s good athletes so I think that’s huge right there. I don’t guess people talk about us as much as the DFW area or the Houston area because there’s a lot of great athletes there as well, but we have some too, and I’m proud to be a coach in this area because I think all these guys in this area do a great job.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Over the years, we’ve been seeing more and more run-pass options (plays where the OL blocks like it’s a run play, but WRs run routes, and the QB has the option of handing it off or throwing it) at every level of football. How has the advent of the run-pass option changed the game? And how often do you use RPOs?
COACH ABLES: It’s changed it a bunch and we use it quite a bit, but it still boils down to fundamentals. Blocking, tackling, getting off of blocks and securing the ball. That, to me, that’s the key thing. The game has changed a little bit and everything tends to run in cycles sometimes, but with the spread offense, and as you mentioned RPOs, it’s different, but still at the end of the day it boils down to good fundamentals.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: There’s been some news made the offseason about referee shortages around the state. What would you say to someone thinking about getting into officiating, and how do you feel about the job the Texas Association of Sports Officials does at providing y’all with top-notch officials for Friday nights?
COACH ABLES: They do a great job. I’ve been guilty of getting on them and yelling at them and stuff like that, but I’ve also make sure I thank them at the end of the day for what they do because without them we wouldn’t be able to play the game. I think our chapter does a good job. Wayne Elliott is our Chapter President of the Austin Officials Chapter, and not only are they good officials, but when you get a chance to talk to them, they’re good men, good people, and they’re doing it for the kids, too, so we’re kind of in the same boat. It’s all really about helping kids, and we’re very appreciative of those guys. I wouldn’t want to be one. That’s a tough job. With fans and parents screaming at you, and coaches screaming at you, and you got to get it right. We can come back the next day and look at film and go ‘Ah, you screwed that up.’ But they only get that one shot right there to see it and make the call so they do a heck of a job and we’re appreciative of them.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Which college and pro teams do you root for on Saturdays and Sundays?
COACH ABLES: I’m usually working here on Saturday and Sunday so I’m rooting for the Bulldogs, but when I check my phone and look at scores, the Longhorns and the Aggies, I want them to do well, and guys around the state that I know that coach at places, I want them to do well too. Of course, if you’re in Texas you’re probably a Cowboy fan and I want those guys to do well, and the Texans. I kind of root for coaches nowadays instead of teams. I like to see certain coaches do well, but mainly I’m a Bulldog fan because my time on Saturday on Sunday is going to be here getting ready for us.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: It’s no secret that high school football takes on a bigger meaning in the great state of Texas. What does it mean to you to be a high school football coach in Texas, a place where the ‘Friday Night Lights’ seem to shine a little brighter?
COACH ABLES: As I mentioned to you earlier, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for the opportunity to be a coach because it’s a huge responsibility. My coaches, from the time I was five years old, all the way up to in college, made a huge impact on my life. Every one of them. I can honestly say I didn’t have a bad coach. People may have bad experiences sometimes, but every coach I had was a good person. They were there to help you, to make you better, to try to make you a better man and that’s what I try to do everyday. Get up and make a difference in kids’ lives. Make sure they know that you love them because they may not hear that at home. They may, or they may not, and you never know what’s going on in their lives so it’s not just coaching that’s important. It’s really being there for them, counseling them when they need it, encouraging them when they’re down. Correct them when they mess up, but also reminding them that everybody is human and that’s part of being a man. When you mess up you make things right and fix it, but it’s been my life. Besides my family and my faith it’s my top priority.