NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - December 31st offers people a chance to look back at the year that was. In East Texas, sports fans were treated to a wonderful year. it didn’t take long for some of the top moments to happen.
In February, Groveton native Lane Johnson made headlines for calling out Tom Brady and the Patriots days before the two teams met in Minneapolis for Super Bowl. The Eagles backed up the talk and walked out with the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
Johnson would not be the only East Texan to see success. A few months later the SFA Lumberjacks entered the Southland Conference Tournament as underdogs to Southeastern Louisiana but they were able to prevail and make the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons. The story gets crazier. From the beginning of the season, Coach Kyle Keller said he saw his team playing in Dallas for the opening round of the tournament. He said he would dream it and pray about it and when it happened he just smiles. SFA and Texas Tech were able to put on a show in Dallas in front of a near capacity crowd in what was a great back-and-forth game.
A year after competing in Williamsport at the Little League World Series, half of the Thundering 13 returned to All-Star competition and gained some new faces to make the Firece 14′s. Like the year before they would play on national Television a day after winning the the U.S. Championships.
The fall saw another East Texas team put on a show on a national level. The SFA Ladyjacks made a return to the NCAA Volleyball Tournament after one of the best seasons in school history. The Ladies were able to get 29 straight wins on their way to an appearance against Texas. That win streak is the longest in program history.
The year did not just see big victories. The year also saw East Texas athletes step up. Athletes like Patrick Mahomes. Last year Mahomes sat on the bench for the Kansas City Chiefs. In just one game of action, he was able to lead the team in a 4th quarter comeback. After the season ended the Chiefs did not resign Alex Smith and Mahomes took over. The rest has been history with Mahomes rising to elite status and considered one of the best in the league.
Several East Texas athletes are looking to follow in the footsteps of Mahomes. In this year’s NFL draft two of his former teammates, Keke Coutee and Dylan Cantrell were both drafted. Both are from East Texas as well with Coutee from Lufkin and Cantrell from Whitehouse. John Franklin-Myers from SFA was also drafted by the Rams. He might have had the best career so far. He was recently voted as the Rams rookie of the year by his teammates.
It wan’t just football players drafted. Central Height’s Grayson Rodriguez was drafted in the first round of the MLB Draft by Baltimore. A year after being drafted by Houston, Lufkin’s Trey Cumbie went back to school and improved his draft status. This time he was drafted by Tampa and decided not to return to school.
It was the end of an era on several fronts. At the MLS level, Nacogdoches native Clint Dempsey retired from the Seattle Sounders.
TJC Apache coach Danny Palmer also decided to retire. Ending a stellar run with TJC football that produced over 100 players moving on to the 4 year level.
The Clint Conque coaching era ended in Nacogdoches but not on the good terms of Palmer of Dempsey. The coach resigned after being put on suspension for allegedly violating school policy. The Lumberjacks won 2 games under interim Jeff Byrd. After the season, new Athletic Director Ryan Ivey hired Colby Carthel from Texas A&M Commerce.
The year also gave us inspirational stories. For so long, the Huntington Football team was considered a joke by many outside of the small town. For the first time ever, Coach Jim Kerbow led the team to the playoffs. And while they might not have had any success against a tough West Orange Start team, they were able to say they were history makers.
What about the story of Little Noah. He is simple known as the Little Lumberjack and in a few years he wants to be The Lumberjack.
The year’s best stories came in December. With a record crowd watching, the Longview Lobos were able to win their first state championship in 81 years when they came from behind and beat West Brook at AT&T Stadium.
Just days prior to the Longview win, the Newton Eagles got maybe the most emotional state win ever. Before the season started head coach W.T. Johnston was told his chronic disease tat attacks his lungs had gotten worse and he had 8 months to live. Nine months later Johnston was celebrating a state win with his team. Afterwords he did not hold back on his words.