Football coaches and players inspire each other with a strong bond

Callie Hawkins

With a record of 7-2, the varsity football team finished off their season strong with a huge 49-6 win against the school’s rival, St. Mark’s, on Friday, Oct. 28. With the passion within this team, together they hurdled obstacles and admitted defeat but more often than that, fought and won together throughout their season.

The past two seasons of Eagles football have been arguably the most exhilarating, successful and anticipating seasons because of a more bonded and diverse group of boys led by experienced seniors.

“My favorite thing about this place is the sense of community, and I always tell people that come visit [that] within these gates it’s like its own town,” junior varsity head coach and varsity quarterbacks/offensive line coach Jordan Swinford said. “And we had to take over a year-long break from our town. Football is very much a community thing, and… I think the success of last year’s team has led more people to be supportive of this year’s team.”

Last year’s team with varsity captains Jake Lewis ’22, Chase Kennedy ’22, Carson Langston ’22, Ryan Ainsworth ’22 and senior Patrick Burke reinvigorated the passion of the team and its fan base by having an undefeated season and making it the Southwest Preparatory Conference championship for the first time in the school’s history. Burke, the starting varsity quarterback for the third year in a row, is a captain for his second year and has taken what he learned from the senior captains last year and integrated it into this year’s team.

“This team and last year’s teams both have great leaders,” Burke said. “Both teams bonded equally well, and it’s resulted in [our] success so far. Obviously, the goal is to win an SPC championship, and we’ve proven that we’re capable of doing that.”

Throughout the season, the fans were an integral part of the team’s many successes and were there for them though the losses.

“When we continue winning, the fans get more and more into it, and there is more attendance at the games and it’s louder,” Burke said. “It’s definitely like a positive feedback loop. The more and more we perform well, the more the fans come out, and then we perform better with more fans.”

Football program director and varsity head coach Richard Williams scheduled many pre-conference games against competitive teams that the staff was unsure of the outcome of all of them, but game after game, in pre-conference games, the Eagles came out victorious allowing them to go into their conference games with momentum and confidence.

One unique opportunity that riled up the fans and the team was the game held at the Dallas Star, the Dallas Cowboys football practice facility, on Sept. 24, against Sabine High School, a public school located about two hours east of ESD. The varsity team had never played them before. With three minutes left in the first quarter, the Eagles were up 41-0. Throughout the game, nearly everyone was able to play, and the team was able to celebrate a 54-0 win.

“We wanted our fans and our parents and our players to see that venue because they earned it,” Swinford said. “They don’t just let anybody play there. We went up against an East Texas public school that we knew nothing about this year. In their defense, we played about as perfectly as you could start a game, but I think it showed that we don’t need to know [everything about] the team and the school. We just worry about us, and I think it definitely gave us momentum to go into a place that is obviously an honor to play at and win.”

The following weekend was the homecoming game against Bellaire Episcopal, a team that has always been hard competition.

Our players just said, ‘Who cares about [the] score, who cares about how much time is left? Let’s just go be us,’ and we just did what we had to do.

Jordan Swinford

“I told my coaches ever since week one that I was looking forward to this game because it was going to be fireworks,” Williams said. “I knew that they had extremely talented athletes that they added to their program, but I was confident that we had the talent to match them. We were the number one and number two ranked teams in the conference facing off on a homecoming game, which isn’t typically what you do for homecoming. But I’m glad the way it worked out because it gave our fans something exciting to watch, and it was a huge crowd because of homecoming, and the players fed off of that a little bit.”

And he anticipated how it would be. The Eagles scored first and were performing amazingly until about the third quarter when Bellaire came back and were up by two touchdowns. Up until about six minutes were left in the game, the ESD fans had their hands over their eyes, peeping every couple of seconds through split fingers. The score was 25-34, but the team did not give up and came back to win the game 39-34.

“Every person when life is easy, like they’re awesome, right?” Swinford said. “Who you are as a person is who you are when you’re at your worst. Yeah, and we were not in a good spot with six minutes left. But our players just said, ‘Who cares about [the] score, who cares about how much time is left? Let’s just go be us,’ and we just did what we had to do.”

The first time ESD beat Bellaire was last year. And because of that defeat, Bellaire recruited even more players in order to beat us this year. The victory added even more momentum and spirit to everyone supporting the Eagles and built up confidence for the rest of the season.

Sophomore Hutch Chipman scored the winning touchdown of the game and is one of the younger players on the team who will be an integral part of the team for future seasons.

“With 13 seconds left, we were in the red zone, and we called a play that I knew there was a chance I was getting the ball thrown my way,” Chipman said. “I just ran my route and turned around, and the ball was in the air. Thankfully I caught it, and we won the game. It was a crazy experience and something I won’t ever forget. I’m just happy we won that game, and our team was able to overcome the adversity of us being down in the fourth quarter. It showed that our team has what it takes to win the hard games and make it to the championship.”

The younger players are contributing more to the team than the coaches have seen in years and makes them hopeful for seasons to come.

“I told the current seniors that last year’s seniors…left a legacy, and in my opinion, what the class of 2022 did and what the class of 2023 does will impact not just the football program, but the school for the next decade,” Swinford said. “The [middle school and younger players] of the school are watching [the captains and the seniors] and not even saying I want to be like those guys, but saying I want to do what they’re doing.”

The Kinkaid School beat the Eagles in the SPC championship in the 2021 season, establishing them as a natural rival for this season. Going into the game on Oct. 14, ESD was undefeated with a record of 6-0, but there were definitely nerves surrounding the game, especially since it was a home game for Kinkaid. Unfortunately, the team fell to the pressure and Kinkaid came out victorious, winning 24-20, and stripping their undefeated streak.

The next week, on Friday, Oct. 21, the team went up against St. John’s Episcopal School for the Eagles’ last home game and senior night. Unfortunately the Eagles lost 21-3, but the fire built up in their hearts led the team to triumph over the St. Mark’s Lions at their home stadium, ending the Eagles’ season on an exciting and positive note.

“Falling short of our goal to win the SPC championship was obviously disappointing,” Burke said. “But closing out the season with such a great team win was a good consolation.”

Although these past two seasons have had the quality leadership of the captains and other seniors, the coaches are confident that their future captains and seniors can be inspired by those of the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

“We lose good athletes every year; it’s just part of it,” Williams said. “We had to replace [players last year], and we’re going to have to do that again next year. But I feel like we are building a championship program to where every year we’re going to have that expectation to compete at the SPC championship…I like the culture that’s been established, and it’s my goal, it’s our coaches’ goal to continue that. We don’t want to be a one or two-hit wonder. We want to make this something that is sustainable.”

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