Some years are just better than others. For Central Texas athletics, 2011 was one of those years. It packed in the resurgence of Lampasas football, the Roos' youth movement playing off with a three-round deep playoff excursion, heavily recruited athletes (Copperas Cove's Orlando Thomas, Harker Heights' Camrhon Hughes and Killeen's Tashawn Thomas), gold medals aplenty in track and field and, of course, a Heisman winning quarterback at Baylor named Robert Griffin III. Here is a list of the Top 10 sports stories of the year compiled by the Daily Herald's sports staff.
The atmosphere was electric as nearly the entire city packed into the loaded Killeen High gym. The city's top two girls basketball programs Ellison and Harker Heights were squaring off in the Region II-5A quarterfinals.
In an epic game that lived up to its billing, the Lady Eagles rallied from a double-digit deficit to outscore Heights 30-6 in the fourth quarter and overtime to win 57-48 their third victory over the Lady Knights last season.
Both Ellison and Heights will renew that rivalry for the first time this season on Tuesday, when the unbeaten Lady Knights (23-0) seek revenge in the Lady Eagles' own gym.
Led by senior John Horton, who won gold in the long jump (24-5¼) and silver in the triple jump (51-1), and a pair of silver medal finishes in the 400- and 800-meter relays, Copperas Cove finished second in Class 5A at the UIL State Track and Field Championships in May.
They were joined by Harker Heights seniors Kyle Thompson, who won his third straight state championship in the 800-meter run (1:50.54), and Regan Gilbert, who parlayed a wildcard spot into a silver medal in the pole vault (16-6). Killeen freshman jumper John Warren was the 4A runner-up in the long jump (48-4¼).
Killeen made its deepest playoff run in three years in what could be its final season in 4A.
The Roos, who are predicted to jump to Class 5A in the UIL 2012-14 biennial realignment, reached the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008 when a Killeen team with similar personnel lost to eventual state champion Lake Travis in a Division I-4A state quarterfinal. After outscoring their first two playoffs 96-28, the Roos lost 32-24 to Wichita Falls Rider in a regional playoff game at Mansfield to finish 8-5 in 2011.
In Salado's first season in 3A, the senior-laden Eagles baseball team (27-11) rallied around their longtime coach Melvin Bates and his wife Judy, who in April was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins B-cell lymphoma.
Retiring at the end of the season after a quarter-century at Salado, Bates and the close-knit Eagles went on an incredible postseason run, advancing to the Region IV-3A semifinals the farthest Salado has made it since winning the 2A state title in 2008.
Garrett Gilbert was supposed to be the next great quarterback for the Texas Longhorns. It never quite worked out and he wound up transferring to SMU.
That opened the door for former Belton standout David Ash, who battled Case McCoy for the starting position in a back-and-forth battle throughout the season.
Ash seemed to secure the job with his Holiday Bowl performance, though, going 14-of-23 for 42 yards and a touchdown and also catching a 4-yard touchdown pass from fellow freshman Jaxon Shipley.
Ash finished the season completing 56.9 percent of his passes, but had only four touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions.
Toward the end of the Badgers' historic season, Lampasas coach Joey McQueen took out an old trophy from the case.
He had no idea what it was from, but wanted it to serve as motivation. The Badgers swept District 25-3A, including getting wins over Salado, Taylor and Liberty Hill and finished their regular season 9-1 and won their first district title since 1989 the year the trophy turned out to be from.
Lampasas' season ended sooner than expected, though, when they lost to La Vernia 36-21 in the area round.
Ken Gray, Shoemaker's first head football coach, retired abruptly June 9 after 12 seasons and a 29-81 record with the Grey Wolves. Gray led Shoemaker to one playoff appearance (2008) but left amidst a 22-game losing streak.
Gray, who left coaching after 22 years and an 88-131-1 record, reportedly refused to sign an athletic contract presented to him by the Shoemaker principal and Killeen ISD athletic director during an end-of-year meeting.
He was replaced by former Harker Heights assistant coach Channon Hall, who had spent the previous four seasons coaching at Pflugerville Connally, on July 2.
Led by its first-ever Heisman Trophy winner in Robert Griffin III and a cavalcade of seniors including 1,500-yard rusher Terrance Ganaway and all-time leading receiver Kendall Wright Baylor experienced a program transformation this season, rising from the depths of the Big 12 to the national stage.
After pulling out a record-shattering shootout 67-56 over Washington in Thursday's Alamo Bowl (its first bowl win since 1992), the Bears eclipsed the 10-win mark for only the second time ever (1980 being the other) and are likely to finish the season in the top 10 of the BCS standings.
The Grey Wolves snapped the state's longest active losing streak with a 32-24 win over rival Ellison in the final week of the regular season.
Johnny Jefferson ran for four touchdowns and threw for another to snap a skid that spanned four seasons and included the team's only playoff appearance.
Since losing to 42-21 at Temple on Nov. 7, 2008, the Grey Wolves lost to Tyler John Tyler in their first-ever bi-district playoff game, suffered 0-10 seasons in 2009 and 2010 and lost their first nine games of 2011 before snapping the streak against the last team it beat before the slide.
Everyone knew RG3 was good. But few expected him to actually live up to his socks' namesake Superman.
He did that and more for the Bears, leading them to a 10-win season, an Alamo Bowl win and won the school's first-ever Heisman Trophy. RG3 beat out runner-up Andrew Luck of Stanford, Alabama's Trent Richardson, Wisconsin's Montee Ball and LSU's Tyrann Mathieu for the award. Griffin finished his final season at Baylor with eye-popping stats. He completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns, while only throwing six interceptions.
He also ran for 699 yards and 10 touchdowns.
More importantly, he made Baylor respectable again, and for that, he brought the Heisman to Waco.