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by Peggy Helmick-Richardson
An aging white leather football sits in the trophy case of the Allen High School Athletic Center. Handwritten on it are "Allen High School/1st Football Teamó1936/Frank Smithócoach" along with the schedule and final scores of that yearís season. This treasured memento commemorates the founding of the Allen Eagles football team in what was then a small farming community. At that time, the team played in the 6-man league.
Early on, those scrappy young men from Allen High School fought hard on the field, and within a few years, they began to rack up impressive wins. But the ultimate title remained ever elusive.
Allen High School 1949 graduate and past Eagle quarterback Doyle Morrow of McKinney notes that even though their 6-man team won bi-district, smaller schools were not entitled to go on to state. "Bi-district was as far as 6-man went at the time," he laments.
Another early Eagle quarterback and 1953 Allen High School graduate Henry Hedgcoxe of Parker notes that the still 6-man team continued on to regionals every year he played. But the rules regarding small teams not qualifying for state level were still in place.
How do these alumnae feel about Allen finally attaining this long sought after goal? "Great! Itís about time!" Hedgcoxe declares. "I was really proud that they won," Morrow adds. "Forever they have been good, but this year, they have been especially good."
The Allen Eagle 6-man football coach from 1950 through 1954 (and Allen High School alumni, teacher, and principal as well as school district superintendent), Gene Curtis declares, "Iím still an Eagle fanóthe blue and white! I saw three of Allenís play-off gamesóCoppell, Odessa Permian, and Trinity. I planned to go see them play in the finals but came down with a cold."
Curtis points out that when he left Allen to become the principal of the Weatherford High School there were 160 students in the entire Allen school district, but these numbers did not stand in the way of team resolve. "I was there for four years and we only lost four games. And we won three district championships."
Seventy-two years after their first time on the football field, the Allen Eagles capped the season by winning their first state 5-A championship and now have the much-coveted state champion trophy to keep that 1936 football company.
A jubilant crowd filled the stadium on Sunday, January 18, to celebrate the win and honor the young men and their coaches. Here the team was not only presented the UIL State Trophy, they also received a trophy from MaxPreps. The publisher of national rankings of every varsity football team across the U.S., MaxPreps recently ranked the Allen High School Eagles as number five in the nation.
Although this winning team is made up of individual athletes, from their newly acquired mountaintop vantage this feat is seen through a single pair of eagle-sharp eyes. Coach Westerberg attributes team unity to this yearís accomplishment. "If you donít play as a team, youíre not going to win," he emphasizes. "We were probably more talented last year as individuals, but we got beat in the first round of the playoffs. This group got it done as a team playing together."
Flight to the Top
The story of the Allen Eaglesí recent achievement begins in 1995 with the arrival of head coach Todd Graham. Under his six-year direction, the Allen High School varsity football team established a winning tradition, making the play-off five of those years and taking two bi-district championships.
In 2001, Joe Martin stopped in as head coach. Prior to coming to Allen, he was the coach at Garland High School. Also making the move to Allen at that time was Martinís offensive coordinator and assistant coach Tom Westerberg, a 1987 graduate of Texas A&M.
Under Martin, the Eagles advanced to the 2003 Division II 5-A semi-finals. Following this, Martin became the assistant executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, and in 2004 Westerberg stepped up to take charge and move the team forward.
The Eagles again made it to the state semi-finals in 2006, eventually losing to powerful Southlake Carroll High School. The following year, the team had a 10-0 regular season but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Through hard work, determination and nurturing a unique camaraderie among this yearís players, Coach Westerberg directed the 2008 team to the title of state champion.
"The big thing is the team chemistry," Westerberg emphasizes. "This was a very close-knit group. They set a goal of winning the state championship after being beat in the first round of the playoffs last year. This group set out to get that corrected."
Westerberg also lauds the depth of his 2008 team members and their ability to stay steady in the crisis. "We had players who got hurt and players who stepped in for them," he explains. "We expected the backups to be almost as good as the starters." He was not disappointed.
A prime example of this occurred when starting quarterback and junior Matt Brown broke his collarbone in the second round of the playoffs. Backup quarterback Tucker Carter, also a junior, not only successfully stepped in to see the team to state, but also was awarded the State Championship Offensive MVP title as well as most valuable player of the year by his teammates.
Tucker considers these awards "an honor," and admits that he was taken by surprise by these recognitions. He attributes his success on the field to "getting the ball out quick and letting the other guys make their plays." Tucker continues, "I knew it would be a great challenge, but the team rallied behind me."
Although Matt was unable to participate in the championship game, his enthusiasm over the win is not dampened. "It was awesome!" he declares. "All that hard work that you put into it, and to see it all pay off was so much fun!"
Westerberg nods with certainty as he acknowledges Carterís last minute success on the field. "We expected Tucker to come in and performóand he did." He then adds, "They always do!"
Westerberg attributes a significant portion of the teamís success to the leadership of this yearís five captains Cody Milam, Nate Bonsu, Matt McBride, Steven Terrell and Uzoma Nwachukwu. The coach explains, "For each of these guys, it is all about the team, not the individual. They all, to a man, set out that they were going to put the team first. They made sure everybody on the team also put the team first. And that is how we played it!"
The Team Leaders
Senior Matt McBride ducks his head and hesitates when asked about his achievements on the field. But when the conversation changes to team accomplishments, this linebacker immediately rattles off some of the Eaglesí proudest moments for last season.
"We knew we had a chemistry like no other team in Allen," he boasts. "Last yearís team had more talent, but they didnít have the bond that we do." Matt then explains, "I think it started in the off-season when we lost in the first round to Rowlett. That was a pretty big embarrassment. We werenít ready for that game. We werenít focused. So we worked harder than any Allen team has probably ever worked. We pushed all the time and it made a huge difference."
"The big turning point in the season was the big loss to Trinity," the 5í11", 215-pound linebacker points out. "We all came together and decided that we were not going to be stopped any more. No other team is going to beat us."
Matt also lauds Mitch Hartshorneís interception as "the really big turning point" for him during the state championship game. "Itís what got us rolling to our three touchdowns."
Playing football since the fourth grade, starting on an ASA team, Matt has been on the Allen High School varsity team since the play-off games his sophomore year. When pressed to name what skills he brought to the team, he shrugs, "I try to lead by example. I donít slack off and always try to play my hardest."
Matt signed with Tarleton State University in early February and plans on majoring in kinesiology or physical education with the intent of being a physical therapist.
Cody Milam also started his football career with a fourth grade ASA team. Playing both offensive and defensive positions before high school, he was an Eagle left guard.
"I think the thing that brought us to state is that we are family," he notes. "Each of us could count on the other; we are all brothers. I could trust my life with every one of those guys and it is one thing Iím really gonna miss with this team."
This 18-year-old names "faith" as the greatest contributing factor to his teamís state championship win. "Just because you are down, it doesnít mean youíre going to lose. You just have to come back stronger." He goes on to explain that the fifth round in the playoffs was the furthest the Allen Eagles had reached prior to the 2008 season. "On our fifth round," he continues, "we had a hard time up front. But we got over that hump!"
The 6í4", 300-pound Cody also had to get over his own personal "hump" when he broke his fibula in the middle of the season but continued to play on the leg for two games before discovering the extent of his injury. Because of this, he was forced to sit out the second and third round of playoffs.
"Everything about us was a team," Cody adds. "Even if you didnít start, you helped. We couldnít have gotten where we are today without guys like Jeremy Dickerson, Tucker Means or Robert Stewart. Although they didnít play as much, they helped us in practice tremendously. They were just as much a part of the team as any captain is. "
Cody will be starting at Lamar University on a football scholarship in the fall and is considering a major in electrical engineering.
Growing up in Richardson, Nate Bonsu also began playing football in 4th grade with a city league and then for Westwood Junior High. His family moved to Allen when he was in the ninth grade.
A nose guard for the Eagles, Nate also played defensive tackle with earlier teams.
Next year, the 6í5", 280-pound Nate will be attending the University of Colorado at Boulder. "Iím gonna play football on a full ride," he beams, then adds, "Itís one of the most beautiful places Iíve ever seen in my full life. They have a great business school and a good football team." Both attributes are a priority for Nate who plans on majoring in international business. "My dream is to play in the NFL" he admits, "but my mom always said to put education first."
"I think winning is everything, when you get down to it, especially when you go on to college or pro football," Nate declares. He then clarifies, "But it shouldnít consume your life. Winning is the basis of everything as long as you focus your talents so that you are winning in a good way."
Like the others, Nate is quick to extol the talents of teammates. "We are all family," he notes. "Every single person on the team was my brother. When it came down to it, you could trust the person next to you to go the hardest that they could."
He names Steven Terrellís interception in the fifth round game against Round Rock Stony Point as the play that proved to be the significant turning point for him. "We were struggling and they were driving down the field. Then Steven made an interception. So I ran fast and knocked down the quarterback because he was the person in front of Steve who stood in his way. When I look back on it, if we hadnít gotten that play we may have not scored and won that day."
An Eagle safety since ninth grade, 5í10", 110 pound Steven Terrell will be playing cornerback for Texas A&M next year. He committed to the school last July after being offered a full scholarship. Undecided as to what he will major in, Steven places sports management or business administration near the top of his current list of options. Although he aspires to play professional football, he emphasizes, "The most important thing is to get the education."
"Last year we lost in the first round and we knew we should have gone further. So that just made us work harder," the 18-year-old credits as a driving force behind this yearís team. He also emphasizes, "You need good players, but beyond that you need chemistry. Everyone needs to bond. It makes practice fun and when that happens, you succeed."
This Allen senior notes that being a captain "is a lot of responsibility" and admits, " I enjoyed it, but it was a hard thing to do. It would be easy to sit back and let somebody else lead."
For Steven, the significant turning point came when the Eagles defeated Plano High School, at the time ranked tenth in the nation. The next milestone for him was when Allen won 34-21 against the once nationally number one-ranked Euless Trinity after losing to the same team in the regular season.
"I see great things for next yearís team too," he declares. "They have the same work ethic and they know what it takes to win state."
"I didnít really want to play football at first," Uzoma Nwachukwu confesses. "The counselors sent me down because they said the coaches would love me." He then grins, "I got to love football and the people."
He then adds, "I want to thank the coaches for all that they have done for me and the players for going through this long ride with me."
Born in Indiana and raised in Wisconsin, Uzoma first attended Allen schools in seventh grade. At Ford Middle School, he initially played both safety and receiver. When he made varsity his sophomore year, he settled into the safety position.
He will be joining Steven next year at Texas A&M, as an inside receiver. Also on a full scholarship, Uzoma is considering the universal studies program, majoring in sports management, business and communication. "I think it is everybodyís dream to go on to the NFL, but you should have something to fall back on," he stresses. "But it is a dream to work for, it will keep you striving to get better and better."
"I knew we were destined for state when we beat Trinity," Uzoma nods assuringly. "Iím real passionate. We had a home winning streak for many years, and they came over and beat us. It was our chance for a payback!"
This winning Eagle has sound advice for next yearís team. "Build your chemistry right now and donít be afraid to step out and lead. And enjoy every time you are out on the field; have fun and make the experience last."
With the 2008 season behind them, preparations are already underway for next yearís games and an attempt to add a consecutive state championship to the tally. "As soon as the season is over, we regroup with our juniors, sophomores, and freshman," Westerberg notes. "We put them through a strength training and running program and go to work for the next season."
What does Coach Westerberg predict for the 2009 season? "We graduated quite a few kids this year but a lot of the backups were juniors. And a lot of these juniors got a lot of playing time," he points out. "You never know from year to year how you are going to be, so I donít predict. Weíll just go to work and see if we can win some games next year.
Peggy Helmick-Richardson is a freelance writer.