When a 6-foot-4, 290-pound man gets in your face and tells you to do something, you do it, Shoemaker junior linebacker Malik Clemons said.
But when you already feel responsible for your team’s success, like the Grey Wolves’ defense has the last couple of seasons, Shoemaker defensive coordinator Kevin Ellison wasn’t telling his unit to do something they didn’t already know needed to be done.
“We don’t want to point our fingers at anybody. In our eyes and coach Ellison’s eyes, we have to lead and then everyone else will follow,” Clemons said. “It was a lot of responsibility. ... If we need to stop a play, stop it. We should be the reason we win every time.”
Ellison didn’t have much time working with his defense after coming over from Pflugerville Connally with head coach Channon Hall last July.
The transition was rugged, Clemons said, but for the unit that voluntarily shouldered so much responsibility, the changes Hall and Ellison were implementing was seen as a step toward their efforts showing up as a win.
“You know how people are getting used to coaches — some get a little attitude — but two or three weeks in, we saw where he was coming from. We saw Coach Ellison’s a winner, so we’re going to have to adjust if we’re going to win,” Clemons said.
As a sophomore last season, Clemons was the District 12-5A defensive newcomer of the year. In his varsity debut, he totalled 99 tackles and helped lead District 12-5A’s second-best rush defense — allowing just 171.4 yards per game — and fourth-best defense overall (328.1 ypg).
“One of the things that I pride myself on, and that our kids pride themselves on, is we want to be on the field no matter what,” Ellison said. “We want to play football, and we can’t do anything sitting on the sideline.”
With the new defensive coordinator and the pressure of playing one of the defense’s most vital positions, Clemons kept his nerves wrapped inside, overcompensating with due diligence.
“If you get a really intense coach, it makes you want to drive more and more, step it up a lot more and follow his orders a lot more to get everything on point,” Clemons said.
As demanding as Ellison and the other Shoemaker coaches were in installing their new schemes last season, they were just as intense with their belief that the Grey Wolves could win and would win if they just pushed through the hard times. And the hard times at Shoemaker were especially hard.
In the midst of the state’s longest active losing streak, the Grey Wolves were so close so many times last season that some of the losses hurt worse than the growing streak and its stigma.
Shoemaker, in one stretch, lost three of four district games by three or fewer points, including two to playoff teams Belton and Temple.
In the last game of the season, Shoemaker snapped its streak at 31 losses with a 32-24 win over Ellison that none of the Grey Wolves celebrated until the final horn.
“It was a lot of emotions, a lot of feelings, a lot of stuff going on. ... Then we had the lead in the fourth quarter and at the end of the fourth quarter, we were like, ‘We really got this,’” Clemons said.
They finally celebrated. Then, they were refocused. Now, they’re past it.
“You can’t really celebrate a 1-9 season, really, but we got a little confidence in ourselves,” Clemons said.