West, Plano West: Trip to see Skyfall the latest in series of Wolves' bonding exercises
Last Friday was not a school day, but Plano West football head coach Mike Hughes wanted to keep his team together prior to just the second area playoff game in program history.
"When you get out of school, you get out of routine," he said. "It can be hard to keep the guys focused, so we at least wanted to keep them all together so they could keep some focus even if we weren't practicing."
The answer to that was a team trip to the movies.
Specifically, the latest entry into the 007 saga, "Skyfall."
"The kids loved it; I did too," Hughes said. "Who doesn't love James Bond?"
Whether it was the standout performances of Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem, the team-bonding experience or just being a superior squad on the gridiron, West made history that night by becoming the first team in program history to advance to the third round of the playoffs with a 37-27 win over South Garland.
"I knew ... I knew from the very beginning that we had the opportunity to do something special with this team," said Jake Wodka, senior linebacker. "We all love each other like a family, so we all want to stay together and we don't want this run to end."
He isn't the only one who feels that way.
"Now we can say we are the best team at West," said Soso Jamabo, sophomore running back. "But we don't want to stop here; we want to be the first team at West to do everything."
To be the first team at West to advance past the third round, the Wolves will have to travel a good bit further than Friday's journey to Eagle Stadium in Allen.
"Road trip baby," Stephan Randall, senior lineman, screamed in the locker room after the victory.
Indeed West (8-4) will hit the highway this week as it travels to Waco ISD Stadium for a regional semifinal game against Lufkin (9-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday.
"I think the guys are excited to play in Waco, especially at such a nice stadium," Hughes said. "But then again, at this point we don't really care where we are playing, we're just excited to still be playing."
The Panthers, winners of six straight, advanced to the third round with playoff victories over Spring Dekaney (35-20) and Pflugerville (56-43).
Lufkin is predicated on the pass with quarterback Tyler Stubblefield becoming the team's single-season passing yardage leader in last weekend's victory. That performance included touchdown passes to Jamal Jeffery, Kendrick Mapp (the team's primary ball carrier) and JaBryce Taylor. Keke Coutee is another option to catch passes for the Panthers.
"Lufkin has a strong quarterback and three Division I-caliber wide receivers," Hughes said. "They will try to get their playmakers out in space."
Hughes used speed to describe Lufkin's offense, a word brought up defensively too.
"Lufkin will use a 4-3 that is pretty similar to what we use and what Plano (Senior) uses," he said. "They have a lot of size, speed and athleticism and are really an attacking defense."
With the regional semifinals on a Saturday, West has pushed back its preparation for Lufkin a day from the usual game week. The Wolves watched game film and lifted Monday with practices commencing Tuesday, Wednesday and today as the team knows that while they have set a new standard, there is still work to be done.
"We have to keep working hard," Jamabo said. "Pay close attention to film, practice hard, keep going as much as we can every day."
That philosophy will also be in place when the ball kicks off in Waco.
"Same as it has been all year," Randall said. "Just keep fighting for all four quarters."
These Wolves have already advanced further than any of their predecessors and further than any other Plano ISD team since the Wildcats advanced to the state semifinals in 2007, but West isn't ready for its trailblazing run to end.
"We've talked about what we have accomplished a bit, but not as much as you might think," Hughes said. "Right now we are more focused on getting better each week. I think we have been able to do that to this point and if you keep improving, then anything can happen in the playoffs."