Pictured are linemen Dakota Langford, Sammy Sellers, Cisco Fildes, and Trey Vaughan
The Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”. The Mansfield football program has always been regarded as a mid-card program by those outside the community. The coaches, players, and program as a whole, have heard if for years. But within the past few seasons, the Tigers have sent shockwaves throughout the state with an out of nowhere burst of success. No one saw it coming. No one but them that is! They ignored the old ways of mediocracy and in the shadows began to build a program of success. “I feel good about this team,” expressed coach, Tim Cothran. “We have some proven leaders in our small but talented 9th-grade squad with a tremendous group of 8th graders coming up.”
This years Jr High Tigers are poised to bring the same newfound attitude. They have taken shots to the chin and begged for more since they started in Little League and have done so by sticking together. With a small class of ninth-graders who define the term leadership and an eighth-grade class whose loaded for bear talent-wise, the Jr Tigers are prepared to show the 3A-1 conference that Mansfield Jr High football is no longer a one and done program. While certain areas of the upcoming season remain in limbo, head coach, Tim Cothran, is trying to remain positive yet ready for anything.
“I’m still cautiously optimistic about our season and am concerned with the possibility that things could get worse. The game I’m looking forward to the most is the first one we get to play! Right now the emphasis is on just getting the players into the routine. That is why our June/July workouts were so important and valuable. We did tons of drill work with the players while slowly introducing them to our offensive and defensive schemes. Fortunately, everyone in the state is in the same boat.”
With a freshmen squad that consists of Peyton Martin, Tyler Turnipseed, Dakota Langford, Raine Hecox, Turner Wright, Zach Hayslip, Sammy Sellers, and Trey Vaughan many would give a larger squad an instant W. But this isn’t a normal group of ninth-graders. This is a special forces Elite Tiger Eight. Each with their own specialty on the field, the Elite Tiger Eight is a comic book crew of leadership and talent. Peyton Martin will be suiting up in his ever so familiar role of quarterback. Martin’s game smarts along with his double threat ability to pass or run at any time will create chaos for opponents. The light-footed speedster, Tyler Turnipseed, can snap ankles in the blink of an eye and has done so since he first laced up cleats in Little League.
Dakota Langfords tight end position may literally line up at the end of the line, but the monster among men is always in the middle of the battle. When you tack on the hardnosed bulldozer mentality of Turner Wright, Sammy Sellers, and Trey Vaughan, along with the confidence to move mountains, you have an immovable core with the Jr Tigers line. And wide receivers Raine Hecox and Zach Hayslip do not play the position with finesses, they are pure scrappers. With their attention to detail, they calculate their routes down to the inch while snagging each pass with preciseness.
“Peyton Martin and Tyler Turnipseed will be very essential to our success this year,” stats Cothran. “I think they have a chance to really impact the outcome of our season. They’re both returning starters from last year’s squad and were both contributors in a mighty way with our offense last year. Our 7th grade is looking promising as well. We have 16 as of right now. They are a good looking bunch. We are blessed with a balanced mix of players. We have some good looking linemen in this group too along with some talented and quick backs and receivers.”
Peyton Martin has been playing football since the fourth grade and is more than anxious to get this season started. “I’m excited about this year because we have one of the best classes coming up from last year’s 7th-grade team which is going to help us out a lot.” When it comes to which game he is most looking forward to and why Martin says “Waldron because it is a rivalry game and one of my favorite games to play in.” Teammate Raine Hecox seconds that emotion. “The Mansfield/Waldron game is definitely a good one. Even though it’s not a conference game, both programs and communities take notice when these teams face each other. And trust me, we keep track of who wins year after year!”
Hecox is also feeling good about the upcoming season. Heading into her third year of football, she’s not shy to start throwing around the undefeated word. “We have a very good chance of winning the whole conference this year. We have speed, height, and talent and when those things are put together, you get a really solid team.” Just as opponents start thinking the Tiger freshmen can be overpowered, over the horizon comes the Jr Tigers battleship of eighth-graders. Overflowing with talent, size, numbers, and smash-mouth football attitude, the eighth-graders of the Jr Tigers team are more than ready to back their older counterparts at the drop of a helmet.
“We have multiple things we are trying to accomplish in the Jr High/7th grade program,” Cothran adds. “I tell our 7th graders that this is a six-year commitment. We are trying to develop relationships with these young people so we can have a positive impact on their lives. We stress teamwork, patience, commitment, as well as academics, accountability, and a “family-like” environment. We coach them hard and hold them to a high standard. We want them to win because winning has a trickle-down effect throughout the whole school.”
“When a school’s teams are successful, the whole school’s morale is lifted. Not just football but in all teams in the school. Community support is a huge part of that too. The kids feel a great sense of accomplishment when they go out and work hard and they are successful and their community is behind them. They feel that energy and they feel that expectation. The kids truly do play for themselves, their school, their family, but most importantly the community in which they represent. We want to create an expectation of success and it starts in 7th grade.”
Martin and Hecox are just two of MANY that have bought into the program and developed an unbreakable Tiger Spirit. “Being around my friends and coaches is what inspires me to play,” says Martin. “The coaches for Mansfield football are some of the best coaches you can get. They are always trying to make you better and push you to be a better football player.” Hecox agrees. “People always ask me what it’s like to be a female football player and if I get treated differently and they are surprised when I tell them that I get treated the exact same way as the rest of my teammates. When we say we are family, we mean we are family. We work hard together, we have fun together, we succeed together, and we fail together because we are in this TOGETHER.” The foundation was poured over the past few years. Now it’s time for these Jr Tigers to help put up the walls of the new Mansfield fortress of dominance.