From 0-10 to the playoffs, Hemphill in unfamiliar territory

From 0-10 to the playoffs, Hemphill in unfamiliar territory
Source: KTRE
Source: KTRE
Source: KTRE
Source: KTRE

HEMPHILL, TX (KTRE) - The last time the Hemphill Hornets made the playoffs, George W. Bush was finishing out his second term as President of the United States and Apple had just unveiled the IPhone.

That all changes on Thursday night, when 28 students from the small school step on the Center High School football field to take on Waskom in the Bi-District round of the playoffs. The last 10 years for the school have not been pretty.

"People came to expect us to just be 0-10," senior Rece McGraw said. "It is more fun now. You have fun when you win."

The seniors that are changing the culture of the program were 7 and 8 year-olds when Hemphill made the playoffs in 2007. Many of them knew Hemphill had a team but did not realize what was going on.

"I don't remember anything about those teams," McGraw said.

"I knew the team was playing and I would watch but I did not know about the playoffs or anything," senior Trey Ellison said."

"I played in peewee football and I knew the school had a team but I do not remember watching the varsity play," senior Ahrin Turner said.

Ruuning back Zay Simmons rememebers the team. His cousin Richard Simmons was on that team.

"I remember it because I would watch him," Simmons said. "He was a big role model to me. Hopefully we can make it good this year."

26 years ago, Gary Vanya started his coaching career in Hemphill. He left and had stints with Kirbyville, West Sabine and as a defensive cordinator he won a state championship with Ennis. Vanya returned to Hemphill to coach. Last year he had the talent but a few unlucky breaks sent the team in a spiral. The team finished 0-10.

"We had probably 8-10 serious injuries with that ball club," Vanya said. "We had some great offensive lineman and some good skill kids. It was just some bad luck."

When summer workouts began many of the students thought that the season would be business as usual. The team would lose the first game to San Augustine 34-22.  They would then knock of Shelbyville and rival West Sabine in the annual Pine Cone Bowl. They entered district 3-2. Their first task, knocking off a tough Corrigan team.

"I felt it turned around in district," Simmons said. "That first district game we won against Corrigan. That changed the whole mindset."

After beating Crockett in Week 11, the team improved to 6-4, earning them a playoff spot.

"It was determination," McGraw said. "[We just] stuck with and did not give up."

"It used to be just another season but now we got some motivation behind us," Ellison said.

Simmons said they were taken lightly every week and the team used it as inspiration.

"They said, 'Ah, you will never be nothing. You will never be good' But look at us now," Simmons said. "We've changed it from 0-10 to a 6-4 team."

The small town is also latching on.

"We are inspiring our town," Turner said. "They are behind us. "We are playing for pride of the name on our jersey."

The hornets are going up against a school that has playoff success but that does not scare away Vanya.

"We tell them it is just another game and to go out ans play hard," Vanya said.

The players are also sending out a message.

"Just have faith in us," senior Dre Blake said. "Just have faith. We are going to come along. We are moving."

Kickoff from Center for Waskom and Rusk is 7 pm.

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