In one of the better scenes from one of the best sports movies ever – “Hoosiers’’ – Hickory High School Coach Norman Dale leads his team into a cavernous gymnasium, the site of the state high school basketball championship.
Little Hickory’s players were slack-jawed at the size of the gym, but Dale manages to alleviate some of their trepidation by measuring the height of the rim and the distance of the free throw line to the basket.
“I think you’ll find it’s the same exact measurements as our gym back in Hickory,’’ says Dale.
The same type of psychological situation could be facing Lindale High School Head Football Coach Chris Cochran as his Eagles line up against Port Neches Groves in Houston’s NRG Stadium Friday night in the area round of the Class 5-A II state playoffs.
The Eagles qualified for the area round with a 52-38 Region III bi-district win over the Montgomery Bears in Eagle Stadium this past Friday.
Home to the Houston Texans of the NFL, NRG is massive -- especially when compared to Eagle Stadium -- or any other high school stadium in Texas, for that matter.
Add to all this the fact that Lindale is the “Hickory’’ of Texas 5A schools – the smallest in the state (1,154 students) – going up against Port Neches Groves which has an enrollment of 1,493.
Cochran acknowledged he’s a big fan of “Hoosiers’’ and much like the fictional Dale, understands that despite the size of the venue, the outcome of the game will come down to the basics: blocking, tackling and execution.
“As it always is, regardless of where you are playing, football is football,’’ he said. “If you take care of what you are supposed to, you’ll be in a position to win.’’
Throughout his football career, Cochran said, he’s always wanted the team he’s coaching to be able to experience the feeling of getting to play on Thanksgiving week.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be able to be coaching and playing on Thanksgiving,’’ he said. “This is a huge step in the right direction for our program and now we have to guard against the feeling that we’ve accomplished all we wanted to this year.’’
It probably won’t take long for his Eagles to understand they are in for a battle as Port Neches Groves boasts one of the best teams in 12-5A, one of the best 5A districts in Texas.
As far as individual talent is concerned, the Indians boast one of the top quarterbacks in the state, Roschon Johnson, who has committed to the University of Texas. The 6-2, 200-pounder can cover 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, making him a dual threat of sizeable proportions.
“We’ve played a lot of good people this year, but none are better than (Johnson),’’ Cochran said. “This will be another challenge for our team.’’
While Cochran is excited about the challenge of stepping out onto the big stage for his team’s next playoff game, he also understands the quality of the team lining up against the Eagles.
“This is a well respected, talented opponent,’’ he said. “Their tradition is outstanding.’’
Last week, the Indians disposed of Houston Northside, 48-7, building a 28-0 halftime lead and coasting to the win.
Six offensive and five defensive starters are back this year from last season’s 10-2 club, which advanced to the region semifinals.
This holiday week has been different for the Eagles compared to years past. Football is still part of their schedule and they are working hard to keep the season alive.
“When we look back on this game, win or lose, these kids will have experienced something awesome,’’ Cochran said. “They will remember this rest of their lives.’’