In the peak months of summer, the Sealy Tiger football team gathered to hear from their new head coach Shane Mobley who took the job back in January. Seniors like Justin Eckhardt were eager to see what their final season would be like under new tutelage.
Mobley came in and said one thing, “B.I.B.”
“We were all just looking at each other like what does that mean?” Eckhardt said. “Then he told us to look around and all the winning the program has done in the past and that sunk in a lot thinking about what it would be like making a run in the playoffs.”
“Bring it back” was the mantra that Mobley and his coaching staff wanted to not only return success to the team on the field but to bring the football team back to significance around the town of Sealy.
“One of the things I really wanted to do this season was get the community involved in the program again so that we’re emotionally invested in them and they are invested in us and I think we did that,” Mobley said. “You saw how many people traveled out to our playoff game in Lufkin the day after Thanksgiving and that’s huge because it means they care.”
The season was anything but typical as the team’s opener against Wharton was canceled due to Hurricane Harvey striking Sealy in late August. The Tigers then dropped their first game of the season a week later against St. Pius X 56-13. After that, the Tigers showed Austin County that they were indeed back.
The Tigers blew out Columbus 58-0 a week after the St. Pius X game and then came their rival game against Bellville. It was a highlight for Mobley and the team as the Tigers had not beaten their crosstown opponent since 2010. Sealy thoroughly handled the Brahmas winning the game 42-17 largely thanks to a 21-point first quarter.
“For us to go on the road to Bellville and beat them was such validation of buying in,” Mobley said. “When you know you won that game and you see how important it is to these kids, it’s proof that the process is working.”
Sealy’s offense was a key cog to the team’s success with Eckhardt and fellow senior Tyrek McNeese finishing first and second in the district in receiving yards, quarterback Garret Zaskoda leading the district in passing yards and running back Ivan Bolden finishing third in rushing yards.
“Just every practice making sure we get all our reps in and making sure that we’re doing it right is what really helped us gel as an offense,” Zaskoda said. “Plus it’s always nice to have a big like Justin where you can just throw it up there sometimes and he’ll always come down with it.”
The season was an emotional one for the Tigers as they won close games like the win against Needville which went down to the last minute but also faced blows in games against El Campo and Bay City where the team fell just short. The emotions of the season never dragged the team down however.
“We were using so much energy just trying to play catch up but that helped us realize where the mistakes were and we went in and worked on those,” Mobley said. “But we just kept saying that four teams are going to make the playoffs and why not us? We wanted just to get into the playoffs because when the postseason is a totally different animal.”
The Tigers indeed made the playoffs after beating West Columbia in their last regular season to play North Forest in their playoff opener. The Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 42-28 to set up their next playoff game against Henderson. Sealy lost the game 35-14 to bring Mobley’s first season and Eckhardt’s last to a close.
For Eckhardt and the rest of the seniors who wore their matte black Sealy Tigers football helmet for the last time, their legacy was one of toughness and buying in.
“Eckhardt was a guy that is supposed to play baseball at Texas next year but he never took a single play off and kept going in games when he was beat up because that’s the type of kid he is,” Mobley said. “These older guys bought into what we were doing and that was huge because now people see that if they do buy in, there will be payoff and that is what the seniors did.”
Despite all the success on the field, it won’t be the touchdown catches or the playoff crowds that the players will remember from this year. Mobley, Zaskoda and Eckhardt all agreed it was the time spent together as a team.
“We would do team bonding meetings on Thursday nights and it was good to just talk and hang out away from all this, it’s something I’ll never forget,” Eckhardt said.
For Mobley, it is that bonding that he truly wants to affect the players more than anything that may happen on the field.
“I had guys tell me that they got to know people they never imagined hanging out with before and now they really care about them,” Mobley said. “That’s family and that’s what this team is, a family. They can go to their teammates and talk to them about what’s going on back at home and be there for each other. That’s really special to me.”
The bond was embodied clearly from the season’s best times and worst times. Players celebrating and chest bumping as the clock hit zero and the team knows they’re in the playoffs then players hugging each other and being there after the heart break of ending the season with a loss.
It’s a bond that has the town of Sealy, the coaching staff and the players looking towards future success that is surely coming. Zaskoda looked back on this season and with a smile noted what it meant for the program.
“Step one of bring it back.”