Henry: Lobos battled together from start until finish
Dec. 7, 2015 at 11:34 p.m.
Longview head coach John King got a text message this past weekend from a parent of a football player that'll enter Longview High School this coming year.
"They said congratulations on the season and said they were impressed with the hard work and how this team played this season," King said. "They said that when my son gets there, I hope y'all can get the same type of effort out of him.
"I told them that we will because it's not optional around here."
Led by a large senior class, the Lobos set out to work on the 2015 season this past year after an early playoff exit in 2014. King noted it was that early November day over a year ago that set the stage for the Lobos' deepest playoff run since 2010, which ended this past Saturday in a shootout with Mansfield Lake Ridge in the regional final.
"The hard work, the commitment, all of this started then for this group," King said. "The players were willing to pay the price, put in that effort and hard work that it takes to be successful."
"They did that every single day until the very end."
Two words commonly used throughout the season were family and together — a notion that traveled from the locker room and down to the field.
"That's the way this football team operated," King said. "They played together, played for one another, practiced hard against one another and made one another better.
"It was a great atmosphere in the locker room and when you have that, you'll have a good football team and that was the case this year."
Together was the way the 2015 team went about it. There are no Division I collegiate offers out but that didn't stop the Lobos from leaning on one another and battling together to reach the fourth round of the playoffs for the first time in the last five years.
"These guys, these 44 seniors — there's no five-star athletes or whatever the recruiting sites say, but what we've got is big-time players that worked their tails off," King said. "There's some that'll get their chance at the next level but more importantly, what this group is a bunch of hard-working, hard-nosed kids that love to play football and love Lobo football.
"It's the style that they had to play each and every day — hang in there and play for the guy beside them. They knew what it was going to take and they did that."
On Wednesday, the 2015 team with gather one more time for a group photo that will forever hang on the wall of the Lobo Den, joining 13 other teams in Lobo football history that earned their spot with a trip to the fourth round of the postseason.
The 2015 season saw the 41st trip to the playoffs and the 36th district championship in school history. The team set a school record in total offense in a single game with 685 total yards in a 63-20 win over Hallsville.
It also saw a few lumps with an early-season loss to Louisiana power Shreveport Byrd and a district loss to rival Marshall.
"Like I told them Monday, the defining moment was after the Marshall game," King said Monday. "We told them that night that we have to pick up the pieces and get back on track. They did that immediately. They went to work and rattled off seven-straight wins and ended it in the fourth round of the playoffs as one of eight teams in our bracket still going.
"We could've went one of two ways that night. They gelled together and, to me, even became a stronger family after that night."
With a season-opening win over rival Lufkin, a team they saw again to open the playoffs, King became the winningest coach in Longview history, surpassing Doug Cox's mark of 120 wins. Through 12 full seasons at the Lobo helm, King now sits at 131-31 overall with a 66-4 mark in district contests. The Lobos have 11 district titles under King and have made the postseason in every year since he took the head coaching role.
Longview finished the season with 4,431 rushing yards with 10 different running backs notching touchdowns. The Lobos saw two backs — Tylan Miller and Braylynn Anthony — eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. Both scored 14 touchdowns.
Michael Ross finished with 1,495 passing yards with 13 touchdowns, adding 197 more yards on the ground with three scores. Tight end Jordan Wyatt led the way in receiving yards with 387 yards and six scores. Receivers Chris Braggs and Jon Sorey finished with 336 and 2977 yards, respectively. In a run-heavy offensive approach, each role is one that transcends the stat sheet.
"We just had so much unselfish play from so many guys," King said. "They all wanted to do whatever it took to win games, regardless of what their stats looked like."
"Like (fullback) Austin Moore, he played his role whether it was picking up blocks or barreling down and getting tough yards. That goes the same with our tight ends. What Jon and Chris did all year long when it came to blocking or making the most of their opportunity when we threw it, it was crucial to our success."
King cracked a smile when asked about the Lobo offensive line.
"Those five up front are pretty special," King said. "They loved playing together and did so for 14 games which, with our physical style of play, is lucky to get. Those guys were solid."
Ross earned his spot in spring ball, taking over a position at quarterback that had been occupied for nearly three seasons.
"He's a competitive one, there's no doubt about it, and he just goes," King said. "He had to settle down early and he understood that. Our last nine games, he was just solid and became a great game manager. The average fan sees the good and the bad, the touchdown passes or the interceptions. Michael's ability to manage the game, command the huddle, get people lined up correctly and just taking charge of the offense stood out. He's a smart player and a true leader."
Defensively, the Lobos saw a tweak in the coaching roles with defensive coordinator Casey Pearce shifting his focus to the defensive front, a unit that combined for 65 tackles for loss and 21 sacks.
"Coach Pearce is a heck of a coach — he can coach wherever — and when we made those moves, we felt like it was what was best for our players and our staff. It was a great year out of our defensive front with Coach Pearce and Coach (Gordon) Booker getting a lot of mileage out of those guys."
Kybrin Sheridan finished with 77 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Bryan Gilliland notched 91 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and six sacks. Trevor Allison followed with 12 tackles for loss.
Linebacker Bryson Davis led the team with 111 tackles and junior safety Traveion Webster followed with 88 tackles — 66 solo — with two tackles for loss and an interception.
In the secondary, Ameron Dean pulled down five interceptions and blocked three kicks. Travian Clayborn added three interceptions with one going for points.
"As a whole, they may not win the get off the bus contest like others but when that ball wiggles, they're tougher, they're stronger, they're quicker, they want to get to the football and they want to be in a bad mood when they get there. It's that type of player we've always had here — hard-nosed kids that played hard every single snap."
Now, 18 returning letterman get going on the 2016 season, one that will see the Lobos jump back to the state's largest classification and one that King hopes the younger group took note of how the 2015 went to work.
"These guys knew what it was going to take," King said. "Hopefully, the younger groups saw that — that it's not about me, it's about us. That was evident every snap this season until the very end. These kids don't quit. They're not built that way."
Follow Hayden Henry on Twitter: @hayden_h