WO-S MUSTANG FOOTBALL PROGRAM ENJOYS 40 YEARS OF SUCCESS
Since I presented a column 10 years ago, the West Orange-Stark Mustangs football program has been a huge success since the two high schools—West Orange and Lutcher Stark—merged in 1977. Amazingly, during the merged school’s 40 years of existence, there have been only THREE head coaches for the Mustangs—Steve McCarty, Dan Hooks and their present coach Cornel Thompson–have held the reins of the Mustangs football fortune. I ran into McCarty 10 years ago at a fast-pitch softball tournament where we both were watching our respective granddaughters play on a select team from the Lufkin-Nacogdoches area. McCarty visited with me during the games and said that his friendship with Hooks goes back to when they both were assistant football coaches at Lamar University in Beaumont. “Steve was the offensive line coach and I was the defensive line coach and we shared a small cubby-hole of an office in the Lamar field house,” Hooks recalled ten years ago. “With such close quarters, it’s no wonder we got to know each other very well.” Early in 1977 McCarty was approached about coaching at the Orange school once the merger was complete. Immediately after accepting the new job, he asked Hooks to come with him as the defensive coordinator. The merged school had a Class 5A enrollment of 2,500 and thus had to be divided with the ninth and tenth grade being on the East (Stark) campus with the 11th and 12th graders at the West (WO) campus. “The interest in the new football program was phenomenal,” Hooks told me 10 years ago. “We had a huge varsity team, a jayvee, a sophomore team and two freshman teams.” Besides McCarty and Hooks, other members of the Mustangs coaching staff included offensive coordinator Glen Hill, Cornel Thompson, Mark Foreman, Travis Witherspoon, Robert Tywater and the late J.B Bearden. The Mustangs played their very first football game in Houston against a tough Strake Jesuit team. “It was a real defensive battle, lots of good hard hitting and tackling,” Hooks remembers. “We were trailing 3-0 on a Strake field goal when our tailback Tony January broke loose on a 70-yard touchdown run. But it was nullified by a blocking-in-the-back penalty and we lost 3-0,” Hooks added. District play began a couple weeks later against the Port Neches-Groves Indians at The Reservation. At the time PN-G was ranked No. 2 in the state, only 22 ballots short of top-ranked Sherman. The Indians’ heralded ground attack was neutralized by a ferocious Mustang defense led by Keith Parish, Dale Long, Kirk Richard, Harlan Robertson, Greg Hill, Chris McCall, Jimmy Woodson and Van Barnett and wore down the Indians and won 36-16. PN-G still has trouble beating the Mustangs today. The inaugural season for the Mustangs ended with a 5-4 record, but things got better for McCarty and his coaching staff the next couple of years. The Mustangs got more comfortable against the area’s largest schools and posted a 7-3 record in 1978. They won their first of many district championships in 1979 with an 8-1-1 mark but lost 12-7 to Baytown Lee in the opening round of the state playoffs. In 1980 WO-S had its best season ever, going 9-1 but failed to make the playoffs because at that time only the district champion qualified for the post-season. Soon after the 1980 season McCarty accepted a job at Nacogdoches High, which is close to his hometown of Alto. Hooks was chosen as his replacement and he named Thompson as his defensive coordinator and retained assistants Bearden, Tywater, Foreman and Bob Byerly, who came over from Bridge City High School. The Mustangs had a 7-3 record in Hooks’ first year at the helm in 1981 and followed it with a 6-4. That’s when the Mustangs’ coaching staff decided to purge some of the individuals from the team who might have been a detriment to the program before the 1983 season began, causing the record to sink to a school-record worse 3-7. “We noticed a few malingerers and players who were causing trouble on and off the field and informed them to shape up or ship out,” Hooks explained at the time. “As a result we lost quite a few boys but were left with a small but good nucleus of football players.” That policy still exists today. That 1983 season would be the ONLY losing season in the Mustangs 40 years of existence. The Mustangs got better really fast, winning state championships in 1986 and 1987. But their chance to “three-peat” was thwarted by Paris 31-13 on the Texas Aggies’ gridiron in the state championship game, with the Mustangs ending the 1988 season with a 12-3 record. The Mustangs dropped down to Class 4A and put together one more powerful team under Hooks in 2000, winning 14 straight games—including their nemesis La Marque– before losing to a mighty Ennis outfit. WO-S dropped down to Class 3A in 2004 and since then losing a district game has been as scarce as an Orange area snowstorm. Hooks went on to post the best winning percentage in the state of Texas before calling it quits and turning things over to defensive coordinator Cornel Thompson. In the few seasons that Thompson has been in command of the Mustangs’ football team, they already have been in the Class 3A state championship finals three straight times, losing in 2014 and then winning in 2015 and 2016. Not only are the West Orange-Stark Mustangs trying to “three-peat” a state championship again this season under Thompson, but they also are riding the crest of an impressive 29-game winning streak when they travel to meet Silsbee Friday night. “When your program is successful and you’re winning a lot, the expectations are so very high among the players, coaching and the entire community,” Hooks once told me. “But one of the best ingredients we have at West Orange-Stark for winning is peer pressure. “Most of these kids have dads or uncles who have been in our program, and they know what it takes to win as a Mustang. Each year the kids come here in August expecting to be part of a winning program. Our job as coaches is to is to have the kids maintain that attitude throughout the season and then hopefully into the playoffs,” Hooks concluded. KWICKIES…New York Yankee rookie sensation Aaron Judge belted a couple of homers Monday to break the rookie record of home runs set by Mark McGwire in 1967. Judge has 50 homers through Monday’s action. The Houston Texans came within 23 seconds of joining the long list of upset winners in last weekend’s National Football League schedule that saw 9 of 15 teams upsetting the favorite. Three other teams lost but beat the point spread. The Texans scored more points against the defending Super Bowl champions than in the first two games combined. Houston’s only weakness was the pass defense, which ended up burning them, as they lost 36-33 on Tom Brady’s fifth touchdown toss.There also were several upsets in the college ranks with No.16 TCU crunching No. 6 Oklahoma State 44-31, Texas Tech slipping past Houston 27-24 and Florida State losing 27-21 to North Carolina State just to name a few.And while on the subject of college football, the top five teams in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 College Football Poll remain the same with Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Penn State and Southern Cal. In the next five Washington moved up one to No. 6, Georgia leaped four spots to No. 7, Michigan remained No. 8, TCU catapulted from No. 16 to No. 9 and idle Wisconsin dropped one place to No. 10. Two newcomers made this week’s poll—Notre Dame at No. 22 and West Virginia at No. 23. JUST BETWEEN US…Most sports talk shows and even front pages of newspapers contained opinions of what President Donald Trump said in a speech Friday night when he called those NFL players who refuse to stand up for the National Anthem S.O.B’s and said they should be fired. He also said that fans who are offended by their actions should walk out of the stadium on them. Although I believe sports should stay out of politics and politicians should not use their influence on sports. How many fans that paid $250 or more for a ticket for the game would just get out of their seat and walk out disgusted by a player’s disregard for the American flag? I think the billionaire owners are between a rock and a hard place because it’s only natural to support their players, but they also must cater to the fans and their dollars spent to watch an NFL game. And when sponsors start bailing out, the owners will plead for the league to do something to these non-conformists.