LBJ’s football team, a steadfast during a hectic fall semester, failed to win a state championship

I graduated from LBJ high school. I grew up 2 miles from campus. We had a neighbor who I remember two things: 1) her family had a goat tied to the back porch, and 2) she had a boyfriend who played football at LBJ. When he arrived, for us neighborhood kids, it was as if Earl Campbell was coming.

We watched him with a certain degree of admiration as he stepped out of his car in a heather gray tracksuit, “LBJ” emblazoned on his chest. I would ask how the team was doing. It would give a quick update. These interactions taught me a few things: LBJ High School would be the coolest place to go, and goats make bad pets.

I can’t hide the purple pride. And I am not alone.

“It’s one thing I can say that’s special about this community and LBJ,” said coach Jahmal Fenner. “You still see elders representing the Purple Pride and the Jag Nation. So I think the tradition and culture that was established here has not gone away.

The Jaguars lost their first game of the season to Stephenville on Friday, 38-21. Unfortunately, it was in the 4A Division 1 State Championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Even though this wasn’t the outcome they wanted, the team made history. It’s the furthest they’ve advanced in the state playoffs. They are the first Austin ISD school to play for a state championship since Reagan (now Northeast High School) in 1973. Reagan also failed, losing to the real Earl Campbell and Tyler High.

Why the gap between league appearances? Many alumni will cite the events of this coming fall in ’74. A new school 3 miles east – LBJ – lined up its first team and took many Reagan students with it. Since then, loyalty to the neighborhood has been shared between the two rival schools.

For most of the years that followed, it was generally a battle between these two for supremacy in AISD football. And while LBJ has been the best school in recent years, the long playoffs outside the district have been tough to achieve. Better resourced suburban school districts have generally been leading the state football playoffs and championships in recent times. You don’t need to look any further than just outside Austin: High schools in Westlake, Lake Travis, Liberty Hill, and Cedar Park have won titles over the past 20 years.

But the past two years have been different. Still under-registered, LBJ moved down to class 4A in 2020. He reached the semi-finals in year one and through to the final this season.

Shirley Morris’ grandson plays on the defensive line. She said she saw the impact of the recent success of the Jaguars on the community.

“Everyone you talk to, this is so important,” she said. “I mean, it puts water on people’s eyes just to see LBJ go this far, and they make history.”

Allen Scott’s son is a first-year quarterback for LBJ. He was eager to bring the title back to Austin.

“We hear about the Westlakes and the Lake Travises, and you know, we have a conditional thought, ‘OK, yeah, that’s part of Austin, but technically it’s not,’ he said. declared. “These are their own school districts, they are their own communities.

The LBJ football team pass through a crowd of supporters on Thursday before boarding the buses for the state championship.

LBJ came closest to winning, despite the obstacles and distractions that made this playoff series all the more unlikely.

The school year started without a principal and without enough teachers to fill his schedule. Eventually, the school district found a principal and began to sort out staffing issues.

A construction project is underway in a wing of the school, diverting pedestrian traffic to the classrooms and making it difficult to concentrate in the classrooms.

But at the other end of the building, where the athletics offices are located, there was – metaphorically and literally – the calm and constant guidance from Coach Fenner.

“Not being able to have a principal at the start of the school year, yeah, that was a struggle,” Fenner said. “But I firmly believe in finding a way, and that’s what we teach our kids. So we didn’t apologize for the situation we had no control over. We did. just kept pushing.

And for weeks on end, the Jaguars kept rolling – undefeated in the regular season and made it through the first few weeks of the playoffs. But then, on Thanksgiving week, Fenner’s son was shot and killed in Pflugerville. Somehow he compartmentalized and pushed forward.

“It’s just having faith, you know?” I am a believer, “he said.” I put my trust in God and therefore I put my faith in the Lord and I trust and lean on him “

He also saw it as a lesson.

“I am in a situation where I have to overcome adversity. So like I told my players, I just want to be an example of what I teach them every day.

Coach Fenner overcame the heartbreak and his team took three more playoff victories after that, putting the football team on their biggest stage so far.

But against Stephenville, the first quarter fumbles led to a 17-0 lead that LBJ couldn’t overcome. A late charge from LBJ in the second half made it interesting, but an interception in the fourth quarter in the end zone sealed the victory for Stephenville.

And just like last year’s semi-final loss, there was the initial sting, then the optimism that something is being built at school.

Ray Jackson graduated from LBJ before joining the legendary Michigan Fab Five. His father was a football coach and taught at LBJ for many decades.

“I’m the mascot, I was born into this. I have seen the good days. I’ve seen the bad days, “he said.” It’s definitely a time to celebrate Coach Fenner and these great young men and we’re proud of them. “

And he says it’s not over.

“We are going through a rebuilding process with LASA leaving the building,” he said. “It’s major, it’s huge, to have our children on this stage, to have the quality of the children in the program. … It is important for the growth of the reconstruction of the northern community. is from Austin ”

One thing that has ended for now is LBJ’s run in 4A football. Next year they return to 5A and maybe they will come back to AT&T stage.

About Betty J. Snyder

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