The Abilene High Eagles made history during the 2009 season, finishing with an undefeated mark and besting such Texas high school behemoths as Cedar Hill and Katy en route to their first state title since 1956.
As announced over the weekend, the Eagles will have their story told in a feature length movie that will be filmed locally. TexasHSFootball’s own managing editor Hunter Cooke played nose guard for the team and shared his memories from the celebrated season.
A film about the 2009 Abilene High team – that you were a part of – just got the green light and will cast locally. What are your thoughts on the production?
It’s a little surreal. Every little kid says that they’re going to do it, they’re going to be the best ever, they’re going to be the ones that people write books about, but major upsets and amazing seasons happen every year. Yeah, it’s surreal, because this fantasy for 99% of the population is my reality.
Describe your upbringing in the area.
I moved to Abilene when I was young, young enough to the point that I was shocked when I learned I wasn’t born there. I can’t describe it other than normal, other than the obscene amounts of football that my life revolved around.
As you said, football was a large part of the community. After the sport played such a large part in your life, how did you earn the opportunity to play for the Eagles?
I think you nailed it there: I earned it. For around 10 years of my life, I bled the black and gold. I knew I wasn’t the biggest guy, or the fastest guy, but that’s the beauty of high school football: it’s that those guys are on the same playing field as the guys who’ll play on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog, and other various clichéd – but true – phrases.
What were your memories from that fabled season?
It’s all a blur honestly. I only really remember the toughest times in offseasons and two-a-days. I recall all of the games, but the strangest thing is that I never felt any pressure. I honestly can’t describe it, I just knew that we were going to win every single game in that season. Beating Cedar Hill in the third round based off an excellent goal line stand and the title game sticks out.
Thats a tough win. Weren’t you all pegged to lose a couple of the post-season matches?
We were actually picked to lose the district title that year, so showing up everyone that had us pegged to lose was fun. No one expected us to beat Cedar Hill, so being able to have that was insane. No one expected us to finish like we did. We were really beat up and injured there at the end. We lost our top wide receiver, Darius Joseph, in district and our other leading receiver, Parker McCay, our tight end during the first round of the playoffs. I would say overcoming all of that and realizing that we had actually pulled it off was my proudest moment.
You were part of a defense that prevented teams from scoring over 14 points ten times. What credit do you give the chemistry you all had?
That defense was seriously undersized, but we were all incredibly close, and most importantly, we were all sacrificial. There was no one player bigger than the team, there was no one getting too big to take on a block to free up a linebacker, or push a throw to the outside so a corner could make a play.
How close were you with that group of guys and what was life kind of outside the locker-room like?
We’re still tight, and a lot of us still keep in touch. I recently went to the wedding of one of the wide receivers on that team, there were quite a few of us there, and it felt like it was yesterday that I had seen some of those guys.
Usually in sports, the undersized guys are the ones that have to work that much harder, and are usually twice as talented as the larger players because they have to overcompensate.
I’d say our work ethic was relentless. It ran people off, that year people either got with the program or got out. Several guys showed resolve that no one knew they had. Everyone knew that year was special before anyone else and everyone wanted to be a part of it.
What were lessons learned that you carry with you to this day?
If you want something, you have to fight for it, but it can’t be at the denigration of those around you. The team isn’t benefitted by me yelling at my team that they suck; that serves my ego. The team is benefitted by being honest with my teammates when they fail, but building them up when they’re good as well.
This will be a faith-based film. How much of your personal devotion do you credit to the success you had on the field?
All of it. I am a Christian, and a lot of the disciplines I was given when I was young definitely line up with old-school Protestant work ethic. Before I blindly stumbled into the line of work I’m in now, I was considering going into the seminary and interning with the Wesley Foundation at Texas Tech.
Coach Warren was quoted as saying the final game of the season was a special event: “I’ve never seen a community get behind a football team in my 33 years of coaching, it was amazing and it still is today.” Can you speak to that game and the communities involvement?
Well, it’s not like a small school where the entire town shuts down for a game, but as we kept winning, you could definitely see the community support growing and growing.
Perfection is something rarely attained in sports. How did you all do it?
Belief, talent, hard work, luck, and superior discipline.
What has been happening with Abilene since you graduated?
The Cooke legacy has continued! One of my little brothers is at Texas now and he played the same position I did. The middle little brother is a star defender on the soccer team, and this was my youngest little brother’s first season on the varsity squad in football. They’ve been playing excellent football, and they’ll continue to do so long after we’re all gone.
The Eagles just sent seven players to college. What does the future look like next season?
I think there’s going to be some learning curves due to a loss of some huge names, but I still think they’re going to be a solid team. The strength of Abilene is in its discipline and coaching, and that’s something that’ll never really leave.
How will you participate in the upcoming movie?
I’ve asked Chad if I could play myself, as I’m sure like every single other guy on that team has, but he shot me down. I’m still hoping to slide in as an extra somewhere. They won’t let me write it either, apparently I “can’t write dialogue” and have “no experience writing screenplays”, but that’s okay. I’m still going to push to jump start my acting career.