DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas — When Galen Zimmerman took over Dripping Springs High School’s head football coach in 2015, the Tigers were trudging toward the top of the mountain but needed a sherpa with former coach Joel McBride’s resignation to accept the athletic director position at Coppell ISD.
McBride had done an amicable job during his one-year rebuild of the football program following a 2-8 finish in former coach Bob Shultz’s final season in 2013. He and the Tigers notched key wins against Cedar Park and nearly upset the likes of Georgetown and Vandegrift.
Zimmerman’s first year — 5-5 overall and 3-4 in District 25-5A and in fifth place behind Cedar Park, Vandegrift, Vista Ridge, and Georgetown — was marginal but not much better. The summer after that season, though, produced the spark that turned Drippings Springs’ struggles to success.
McBride had not left the cupboard bare.
“The team was in good shape when I took over after Joe McBride had left to take the Coppell AD position,” Zimmerman said. “We had a good core of players and the coaching staff stayed largely intact. We have been able to build on each year success to a point now where I think the players are proud of where the team is at and they want to work to keep it one of the better programs in the Austin area.”
CEMENTING THE FOUNDATION
Part of that core included rifle-armed, wily signal-caller Reese Johnson and bruising senior back Teo Brinckmann, but the Dripping Springs’ was truly fueled by the emergence of its new dual-threat weapon.
Not only did Johnson emerge — he exploded. The then-senior quarterback passed for 2,640, 31 touchdowns, and seven interceptions and rushed for 1,342 yards and 20 touchdowns, leading the Tigers in both statistical categories. Brinckmann, as part of a two-back system, joined dynamic sophomore Jake Cox in combining for 1,424 yards rushing.
Brinckmann finished his final season with 681 yards and 11 touchdowns on 122 carries while Cox ran for 743 yards and 12 touchdowns on 101 carries. With Johnson at the helm and Brinckmann and Cox wearing down opposing defensive lines, Dripping Springs stormed through the season and to the regional finals and the Alamodome, suffering only a single loss to Boerne-Champion High School.
Its magical, Cinderella season ended at the collective hands of now-Oklahoma standout receiver CeeDee Lamb (98 receptions, 2,032 yards, 33 TD), leading junior rusher Quinton Oliver (211 rush, 1,480 yards, 16 TD), senior quarterback Alex Ramart (3496 yards, 47 TD, 7 INT), and Richmond Foster High School’s Falcons.
“I just told them how proud I was of them,” Zimmerman said about his words to his upstart team after the loss. “I know we didn’t win that last game but there was not another locker room that I wanted to be in but ours. It was a tough way to end but I was extremely proud of what they had accomplished that year.”
REBOUNDING FROM 2016’s HEARTBREAKER
The scene that will unveil 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryan’s Merril Green Stadium is seemingly nearly as magical, nearly as primed for Dripping Springs to take a triumphant step toward the championship rounds. While they are no longer an unknown and sneakily dangerous commodity in the UIL 5A football realm, the Tigers ended the 2017 season undefeated and ranked No. 8 in the state by the Associated Press.
Gone is Lamb, off to Oklahoma to torture opposing defensive backs and face Texas Christian University the Big 12 Championship game, and Ramart, who is lighting up defenses at the University of Akron. Oliver returned in his senior season as the lone remaining offensive weapon from that near state-title team.
“Any time you don’t have to defend a player who has a great shot at playing on Sundays it makes a difference,” Zimmerman said. “Last year he scored five touchdowns against us so he ended up being a huge factor in our game. They had a great team top to bottom last year and they were had to defend because of the number of weapons they had and how versatile they were.”
Gone, too, are Johnson and Brinckmann, left to pursue their legends on the collegiate circuits and senior Trevor Greenman and Cox to run where they stumbled.
“Each year is special and even though you have kids like Teo who were a huge part of what we accomplished last year, the group that comes after has to find other leaders to pick up and fill the holes left by graduation,” Zimmerman noted. “This year we continue to talk about just being 1-0 every week – because at this time of the year that’s all you have. We as coaches don’t have to motivate this group each week they do a great job of being prepared to play. I think our kids are excited to play someone who is familiar with them.”
Last year, it was Brinckmann and Johnson’s symphony to direct. In 2017 and in the looming rematch against Richmond Foster’s Falcons, the music will pour forth from different sources.
Greenman has been surgically efficient in his senior year, tossing 35 touchdowns against just two interceptions and completed 130 of his 198 passes (65 percent) to 10 different receivers to the tune of 2,450 yards. He doesn’t have one or two primary receivers — a la Richmond Foster’s Lamb and Chandler Speights in 2016.
He has four in seniors Johnny Hoyle (40 rec, 804 yards, 13 TD), Curt Raymond (31 rec, 487 yards, 10 TD) and Keith Mitchhart (29 rec, 419 yards, 3 TD) and junior Parker Alford (23 rec, 664 yards, 8 TD).
THE COX FACTOR MAY PLAY A VITAL ROLE AGAINST RICHMOND FOSTER
There is also, who Cox has been just as effective in his final season as a Tiger, running for 970 yards — 31 shy of breaking the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career — and 11 touchdowns — two away from breaking his career record.
“[Johnson and Greenman] did an incredible job of running the offense,” Zimmerman mused, allowing a smile to crack his hardened features. “Even though they are different personalities, they each brought a toughness to that position that other kids rally around. Both Teo and Jake did and have done a phenomenal job of running the ball for this program. Jake brings a toughness to the game that reminds you of an old-school running back. We were fortunate each year to have a great back in our system.”
Sill the history and foundation of Richmond Foster’s success loom in the distance, as does Head Coach Shaun McDowell. This year’s Falcons are no slouches after compiling a 5-1 record in District 27-6A and suffering losses to former state-ranked Tomball, near state-ranked Cinco Ranch, and current state-ranked Angleton High Schools.
It’s a fact of which Zimmerman is well aware.
The memory of last year’s loss to the Falcons, too, persists as well as how close Dripping Springs was to a matchup with Temple High School — the eventual state championship runner-up after losing to Highland Park in the postseason finale.
To him, though, the sheet music for advancing is easier played than at first glance. It starts with a firm grip on the conductor’s orchestra baton.
“We have to take care of the ball,” Zimmerman said. “We had too many turnovers in last years contest and you can’t do that and win playoff games against quality opponents. We also have to win the run game on both sides of the ball. There will be opportunities for big plays in all three phases of the game. We have to make those plays. That is where the game is won and lost with two evenly matched teams and those are the plays that championship teams capitalize on.”
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