PHOTO: WOS head football coach Cornell Thompson is surrounded by victorious Mustangs after defeating Stafford. The state championship victory over Sweetwater is testament to the team’s winning formula.

Dave Rogers-For The Record

Steve McCarty remembers when West Orange-Stark High made its first trip to the playoffs.
“I never will forget,” the first Mustangs head coach said of that long-ago Class 4A bi-district game. It took place back in 1979, when 4A was as high as you could go in Texas and only district champions made the playoffs.
“We were on Loop 610 in Houston, headed for the game, and when we topped a hill and the players could see the Astrodome, that bus went crazy,” McCarty recalled.
Nearly four decades and 60 playoff wins later (in 84 tries), don’t expect Mustangs players to go crazy when they roll up to AT&T Stadium Friday to defend their third 4A state championship in a noon game against Sweetwater.
Leave that to the adults.
The current WO-S players have grown up to follow the good examples set by previous Mustang players, like former All-American and current All-Pro Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks.
Thomas and his peers, in their turn, followed the teaching of their predecessors, a generation headed by Texas A&M and Dallas Cowboys star Kevin Smith.
And McCarty, hired to join together the athletic talents of West Orange and Lutcher Stark High Schools in their 1977 merger, had plenty of talented stars showing the way to the youngbloods.
Greg Hill said he was with his Kansas City Chiefs teammates at a Houston hotel prior to a late 80’s game against the Houston Oilers when he saw someone familiar in the lobby.
It was Smith, who was in town with the Aggies for a game against the University of Houston.
“I remember when he was a little snot-nosed kid playing football in the front yard,” said Hill, who proceeded to introduce the college kid to his NFL teammates.
Hill was hardly the “hot” recruit on the four Mustangs teams McCarty coached before returning to his East Texas roots to coach at Nacogdoches. But Hill was the first WO-S player taken in the NFL draft, a fourth-round pick by Houston in 1983.
Smith, a first-round pick by Dallas and the 17th overall choice in 1992, trumped that, as did Thomas later when he was the 14th overall pick by Seattle.
“Earl Thomas’ father and I grew up in the church together,” Hill recalls. “His grandfather was a minister with my father at the Starlight Church of God In Christ.”
Early Mustangs coached by McCarty in 1977 included running back Tony January, an NAIA All-American at Sam Houston State; Ernest Anderson, Big Eight rushing leader for Oklahoma State in 1982; blue chip defensive backs Lawrence Hardin and Van Barnett, who signed at Oklahoma and Texas A&M; and Ray Rogers, a three-year starter on the UH offensive line.
“That year we merged, we had so much talent on that team,” Hill said. “We should have been a lot better than we were (5-4). It was just tough to mesh it all together.
“It just took a few years before the whole system was carried through all the (feeder) schools. After that happened, it was like every year they were in the playoffs.”
Besides its amazing roster of gridiron talents, West Orange-Stark’s football team has been known for stingy defense.
Credit that to Dan Hooks, who accompanied McCarty to Orange from the Lamar University coaching staff and was assistant head coach/defensive coordinator until taking over in 1981 for a 30-year run as head coach.
“I would not have come to West Orange-Stark without Dan Ray Hooks,” said McCarty, now retired after two decades as an athletic director at Stephen F. Austin State.
Cornel Thompson, the Mustangs’ head coach since Hooks retired in 2011, was linebackers coach on McCarty’s first staff and replaced Hooks as DC when he took over the program.
“I’ve always surrounded myself with people who know more than I do, and then I get out of the way,” said the Mustangs’ first head coach.
After six years in the NFL and about a dozen working for Compaq Computers, Hill now lives with his family near Houston, where he is production manager for a plant making electrical switchgear.
But he’s keeping an eye on the Mustangs.
“It’s amazing how much talent comes out that gene pool,” he said. “A small town like that where everybody knows everybody, they come out with a great foundation and they’re talented.
“That’s two great ingredients.”
McCarty agrees.
“At any classification, they all want to win a state championship,” he said. “At West Orange-Stark, they expect to win a state championship.
“They work their tails off and get ‘er done.”

WO-S by the numbers

7 – How many times West Orange-Stark has played in the state championship game, counting this week.
3 – State championships for the Mustangs (1986, 21-9 over McKinney; 1987, 17-7 over Rockwall; 2015, 22-3 over Celina).
60-23-1 – All-time WO-S playoff record, 16-1 since 2014.
787-63 – Points scored-allowed by 2016 Mustangs, 266-33 in the playoffs.
8.8 – Yards per offensive play, also 1.2 points per play.
10 – Punt returns for touchdowns, 5 each by Kentavious Miller, 5 by Jarron Morris.
56 – Touchdown plays of at least 20 yards; 19 touchdowns from 50 yards or more.
Chain Gang redefines stingy
West Orange-Stark’s “Chain Gang” defense has allowed just 63 points this season, an average of 4.2 points per game.
The previous school record for fewest points allowed in a season came in 2012, a 13-1 campaign. Those Mustangs state quarterfinalists allowed 5.7 points per game.
That 2012 team also set a school mark with nine shutouts by its defense, five in a row.
The 2016 team has chalked up eight shutouts, only giving up a safety in the first five games of the year.
Since Cornel Thompson took over as head coach in 2011, WO-S is 77-11. That record includes 28 shutouts.