Cornerback Robbie Gillen’s first-team selection was tops among eight Mineral Wells players named to the 4-4A All-District teams released over the weekend following Springtown’s 27-14 loss to Waco La Vega in the state semifinals.
As just a sophomore, Gillen’s selection speaks volumes for the prospects of Mineral Wells football with the recent announcement the Rams are dropping to 4-A D2. Fans shouldn’t expect to see the competition get any easier with the drop as teams like Graham and Iowa Park may very well be in Mineral Wells district next season.
Gillen matured well for the Rams this season with the only surprise being he switched over from slot receiver to the cornerback position.
“Robbie grew up as the season went along,” Coach Gerald Perry said. “He went from dropping back to make sure he didn’t get beat deep to challenging receivers.
Gillen’s numbers don’t tell the story of how defensive coordinators began to shy away from his side of the field. Still, the sophomore recorded 12 tackles, six broken up passes (PBU), five hustles and an interception.
Second-team running back, Anthony Hernandez made the switch from wide receiver to running back over the summer after having played running back at the sub-varsity level. So Perry had no problems switching him back to what he called his “natural position,” and when district rolled around Hernandez proved his coach right. Hernandez did the majority of his damage in district play gaining 491 yards on 100 carries.
Sophomore tight end Landon Russell had a season that would have escaped the notice of most football fans, but that didn’t stop coaches from making him a second-team selection. Russell had two receptions on the season and both were for touchdowns. It was in the trenches and on the corners where coaches saw the same potential touted by Perry.
“Landon is a hard-working kid who gives you everything he has,” Perry said. “He’s going to be a special player as he gets older and adds more strength and weight to his frame.”
Sophomore wide receiver Tristan Gray spent time on both sides of the football, and that may have cut into the number of player Perry refers to as having a “receiver/offense” mentality. Gray’s second-team selection comes via 30 pass receptions for 350 yards and three touchdowns.
Gray played quarterback in junior high. As the Rams’ fastest player, it looks like he will get the opportunity to compete for the job as a junior with Perry listing Ethan Oliver, Jayce Holland and Gray as his quarterback candidates for next season.
Both Oliver and Holland were honorable mentions selections on offense with Oliver taking control of the attack at quarterback later in the season while Holland excelled at wide receiver.
Punter and kicker Marvin Renteria was the Rams only dual selection as he was picked as the second team’s punter and kicker. Renteria kicked a school-record 50-yard field goal against Iowa Park this year and averaged more than 40 yards per punt.
“Marvin has stepped into a role that is unique for him as a natural soccer player who is asked to kick field goals and punt the ball,” Perry said. “The 50-yarder was something specials for our team this season and something we all will remember.
On the defensive side of the All-District teams, Anthony Flores (senior) was selected as a second-team defensive tackle after leading the Rams with 70 tackles. Flores also got that rare interception as a tackle and had 37 hustles and two tackles for losses (TFL).
“Anthony came in as a youngster, and we weren’t sure if he was going to make it as a football player because he was somewhat undisciplined as a player,” Perry said. “Anthony is the kind of player that makes us love what we do as coaches as he has worked hard and matured and played more than one role on this team. He’s developed a player and into a wonderful person. He’s going to be a player I will always remember for the rest of my life.”
Defensive end Jordan Dixon is also second-team selection with 55 tackles, 41 Hustles, one TFL, and two QB pressures.
“Jordan is an example of how you work hard and learn and don’t give up,” Perry said. “He worked hard in the weight room and developed his body to get stronger. He went from being a backup player to being an all-district one.”
Junior linebacker J.W. Etheridge was selected as a second-team inside linebacker and had limited numbers due to an injury but still had good looking statistics with 48 tackles, one sack, five hustles, five TFL and one QB pressure.
“J.W. being hurt early on hurt us because we wanted to use him at running back too,” “Perry said. “He stuck with staying in condition and encouraging
his teammates, and he has some great performances once we got into district play.”
Quarterback Ethan Oliver’s selection as an all-district honorable mention at quarterback should be no surprise as the junior stepped into the role after circumstances left the Rams without their number one and two signal-callers.
Oliver’s numbers weren’t glittering as Perry admits he was “rusty” from a lack of snaps, but in four games, he managed 32-67 passing for 376 yards and two touchdowns. More than anything else, Oliver proved he could fade away from defenders and sparked the team with leadership and poise.
“Ethan started as slot-receiver and did everything we asked of him and didn’t let changes phase him,” Perry said. “He needs to add some armor to his body in the weight room. I’m looking forward to him coming out and competing for the starting job.”
Sophomore Bryce Fellows wasn’t competing for any job until late last summer when he had a chance run-in with Perry at Wal-Mart, and the two began talking. Fellows had left the football program previously and admitted he missed playing. It only took a little bit of encouragement from Perry to get the sophomore back on the field.
“Bryce is a great player with the kind of size and potential to play at the next level,” Perry said. “He brings a positive attitude every day, and he wants to please his coaches and get better at what he does.”
Senior outside linebacker Garrett McDougal was another honorable mention for the Rams and recorded 55 tackles, 11 Hustles, seven TFL.
“Garrett isn’t the biggest player on the field, but he’s got one of the biggest hearts,” Perry said. “His extra effort and dedication make the difference for him.”
Senior Cagan Blakely’s numbers of 60 tackles, eight hustles, one PBU, one TFL, and three QB pressures also earned an honorable mention.
“Cagen stepped into a starting role after being a backup last year,” Perry said. “He’s got a hard-work ethic and pushes other players to do the same.”
The Mineral Wells Rams fielded one of its youngest teams in recent memory, which is never a good thing but rough when your opponent’s average win-loss ration averaged out to 8-4 on the year.
That’s what happened this year to the Rams as seven of their nine opponents achieved winning records with Springtown topping the heap with a 13-2 record while Iowa Park at 12-2 and Decatur 12-1 all getting into double-figure win totals.
All seven of those opponents also got into the playoffs, with four of them winning two or more postseason games. District 4-4A second-place finisher Springtown fell one game short of the state title game losing 27-14 to defending state champion La Vega.
Don’t be surprised to find out that game was the state championship as no other team has come close in the playoffs to limiting the Pirates’ offense that had rattled off 194 points in four postseason games.