The bright sun streamed through the wide-open blinds, illuminating the small and cramped office and shining on several plays and the offseason schedule scribbled on a white dry-erase board inside the Ellison field house.
More than a month ago, those blinds were closed tight, inhibiting any and all light — and peering eyes — from getting in or out.
Now, though, a new light is shinning on Ellison athletics.
Trent Gregory was hired Jan. 18 to replace embattled head coach Buddy McBryde after a month-long search and has already had a drastic effect on the downtrodden Ellison football program, and all of Eagles athletics.
In just over a month on campus, Gregory’s infused his energy and excitement into the program like an epinephrine needle.
“We want to create an excitement at Ellison High School that everyone can be a part of, and I think that’s beginning,” Gregory said.
Last Tuesday, after watching the boys basketball team rally to knock off Duncanville 51-46 in a bi-district playoff game at McLennan Community College, Gregory made a point to sneak into the locker room and celebrate with the players, many of whom don’t even play football.
“I’m an excited, enthusiastic, high-energy type of guy and I was excited about the win — and they were, too — so I just went around and congratulated them, just started high-fiving all of them, and they got tickled and laughed,” he said. “It was just about celebrating the win.”
There hasn’t been much reason to celebrate wins on the football field the last two years, simply because there haven’t been any.
In the last two seasons under McBryde, success seemed futile at times as Ellison lost 20 consecutive games. Simply speaking, wins were hard to come by in McBryde’s five seasons, compiling a 13-37 record with no playoff appearances.
But it’s been in the little things, like being an active member of the Eagles’ athletic support system that has hope for better days ahead returning.
Gregory has been a staple at nearly every athletic event Ellison has participated in since he was hired, attending both boys and girls playoff basketball games and even taking pictures with a couple of Lady Eagle medal winners at the UIL state wrestling championships Saturday at the Delco Center.
“Last time I checked, we’re in the kid business and it’s about the kids, it’s not about me,” Gregory said.
Gregory has made strides to integrate into the Ellison fabric, whether that’s walking the halls inside the high school or attending afternoon girls basketball practices.
“It’s important to me that I’m visible and that I am around the kids in school itself, not just in athletics,” he said.
It’s rare to find Gregory inside his fieldhouse office at all, unless it’s diagramming plays or developing his weekly motivational “hallmarks” for his players to adhere to.
One afternoon earlier this month, as the Lady Eagles basketball team was preparing to load a chartered bus to their bi-district playoff game against DeSoto in Waco, Gregory had the idea to have his JV and varsity football players line up in “spirit lines” — creating a tunnel of excitement as the girls walked onto the bus.
“It’s just important that they understand and see the support we have for one another. And it’s got to be sincere and it has to be genuine,” Gregory said.
Gregory credits his late father, Carroll Gregory, for his up-beat attitude and loving persona.
Carroll died of lung cancer two years ago in April, and it was because of his father’s illness that Gregory moved back to the Austin area — leaving a job as offensive coordinator at Mansfield Timberview to be an offensive line coach at Leander Vandegrift — in 2009 to be closer to his mother and ailing father.
“He was like my role model, my hero-type guy,” Gregory said. “There’s so much that I’ve learned, with how I was brought up and what I’m all about, I would like to model that for our young student athletes.”
Gregory spent the last three years at Vandegrift after two years at Mansfield Timberview (2008-09). Before that, Gregory was the head football coach and athletic coordinator for 12 years at his alma mater, Austin Anderson, compiling a 39-64 record as head coach with three bi-district playoff appearances and four winning seasons (2000-2003).
Having grown up in a supportive environment where both parents made every game they could from Pop Warner to Anderson, Gregory is trying to bring that same sense of family to Ellison.
“I think about him every day, no doubt about it, but he’s with me,” Gregory said of his late father.
Usually when the sun is at its highest point, so are the Eagles football players.
Between heavy rock music blaring and the even louder shouts of “Win the game right now!” and “I need you to finish!” filling the Ellison weight room, the same players that routinely walked off the field on fall Friday nights with their heads down were now throwing up weights and cracking out high-energy exercises.
“Listen to my voice,” Gregory shouted Wednesday.
And then on Gregory’s call of “Up,” the players are off, churning out 16 sit-ups and push-ups, counting each rep as a week of the football season — “One! Two! Three! Four! …”
The players roll through the regular season with little trouble, announcing “DC” — for district championship — in place of Week 10. And as if calling off roll-call, each player emphasizes the road toward the ultimate prize “Bi! Area! Regionals! Quarters! Semis!” before ending on “State!”
State has been something that has been hard to even imagine given Ellison’s recent struggles.
Before having the players break down as if celebrating a touchdown, Gregory tells them he’s proud of the improvement they’ve already made.
As the players leave the weight room to go change and head to their next class, Gregory does his best to shake hands and hug every player he can — or that’s receptive to it. Some even wait back to make sure they get one.
“(It’s) the kids, once I got here I saw the kids. They’re hungry, they’re eager, they want to work, they want discipline, they want to give effort ... and (there’s) just the sense of pride,” Gregory said. “There was just a huge sense of pride when I came into this building.”