Ellison football got an early holiday gift last month as the Eagles were allowed to observe a Washington State practice on Christmas Eve in San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl.
While most college football fans watch bowl games from the comfort of their homes, the Eagles got a behind-the-scenes look at the work and preparation that goes into competing in a college bowl game.
“Watching the game, you don’t see what the players have been through and how hard they work,” said Ellison junior defensive lineman Stacy Brown. “So being there and seeing it on the field really shows the work and their talent.”
Most high school athletes have the goal of playing at the next level and trips like this are what Ellison head coach Todd Wright uses to show his athletes the reality of what it means to be on a college team.
“Kids want to play at that level,” Wright explained, “but they have no idea what that means.
“They probably play it more from a video game standpoint, but they don’t watch games. They see the highlights or the lowlights, but they don’t sit down and watch a full game.”
As soon as the Cougars clinched their bowl spot and released their practice schedule, Wright knew he was making the trip to San Antonio and gave an open invitation to his staff and team to join.
“A good friend of mine is a running back coach at Washington State,” Wright explained. “And while (Ellison players) weren’t on the field, they got to get there up close and see a full-blown practice, see the tempo of the practice and really see how strong those kids are.
“It was Christmas Eve and people were going out of town so I said, ‘anyone who can be here, including coaches, come on.’ I’d have taken the entire coaching staff if I could.”
The Eagles made the trip down to San Antonio with four carloads of players and coaches.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to get out and see things outside of Killeen,” said Ellison offensive coordinator coach Jared Shaw. “It’s good exposure, but they also get to see how they stack up against those kids across the country.
“A lot of times these kids just compete against each other here in Killeen, but seeing the game from different perspectives and a different atmosphere helps keep them on their toes, but also gets them to continue to work as well.”
One lesson junior offensive lineman Kaleb Luna took away from the experience was the never ending cycle of competing for your position.
“I saw how the O-line practiced and how they came together,” said Luna. “Once they got the work finished and once everyone knew their assignments, then they had a little more fun with some competitions.
“I also think it’s great to see a college athlete on the human side other than just seeing them as an athlete on TV.”
Being among the buzz of the anticipated bowl game added to to the excitement and motivation for Brown.
“Just seeing it up close makes me want to be on that next level with them,” he said. “The way the players carry themselves, hype everyone up and get the energy going, I’ll be using that next year because I’m definitely looking forward to being a leader next season.”
The tradition of taking students to collegiate campuses and practices is one that Wright started when he coached in Houston and he aims to continue to grow the tradition at Ellison.
“It was a little easier when I was in Houston because I can drive down the street and be at the University of Houston, be at Rice,” he explained. “Here, we have to drive a little bit more and it’s a bit more of a commitment from coaches, but I told them if we can get the kids to go, we’ll go.”
Wright took the Eagles to a Texas A&M spring football practice, last summer the Lady Eagles volleyball team went to the University of Texas, the EHS baseball team is currently planning a trip to see the Aggies and the softball team has a trip planned to see Baylor.
The goal is to get as many Eagles on collegiate campuses as possible.
“Get your kids on a college campus as much as you can,” urged Wright. “Go see a practice, go see a game, or even if it’s just to walk around the campus.”
The trips also prove beneficial for Ellison coaches.
“Talking to some of the coaches, seeing the different drills, seeing the focus on technique,” explained Shaw, “things of that nature was huge for me.
“I enjoyed it probably as much as the kids did.”
Washington State went on to beat Iowa State 28-26 in the Dec. 28 Alamo Bowl, but the Eagles feel like they were winners, too, as Luna picked up a few tips he plans to bring to the team in his senior season.
“Like the team bonding and chemistry,” he said. “When they went for one-on-one, even though they’re competitive, at the end of the day they’re still on the same team and they would go to war for each other.
“I would say that probably this season, and even this spring ball, we can incorporate some aspects into becoming a better team altogether — having a better team bond, more bonding with the coaches, staff, teachers, too.”