COLLEGE STATION — In many ways, Kaufman High Schools barnstorm and eventual 49-18 upset during the Division I Adidas 7-on-7 State Title on Saturday at Veteran's Park and Athletic Complex was sheer defiance of the way high school football pundits rank teams pre-tournament.
To the Lions, though, it was a missed opportunity to claim back-to-back titles, but also valuable lessons for a season only two months away.
"We learned not to take any team for granted," said Kaufman junior quarterback Trey Collier. "Teams come in here and they made it to College Station for a reason, just like us. They earned their spot. I think we learned we need to fight harder and when the season comes, we'll do that when games count."
He said that momentary lapse — a first half stumble that left the Lions trailing 24-12 — was a wake up call to him and his young team.
Led by Collier's rifle arm and the quickness and crisp route running of Michael Glick and Kev'on Buckner, the Lions tore through the ranks of Division II on day one and halfway through day two. Mineral Wells, Rio Hondo, Stafford, Wellington and Wimberley High Schools all fell to Kaufman's blend of opportunistic defense and deadly precise offense.
Graham High School was not in that contingent.
"They're a really great team with a very good quarterback. We knew coming into that game we couldn't make any mistakes and we made a couple," said Drew Peterson, the head 7-on-7 football coach at Kaufman. "We have history with them but that's a great team and I take my hat off to them. Every time you face them, it's going to be a fight to the finish. We had to settle down and by the time we did, we had to press a little bit. You never want to be put in that situation."
It's true the Lions entered the tournament the No. 1 seeded team. When the championship brackets were released, though, a dodgy and speedy Graham stood in its way.
Like a boxer facing off against a power puncher, the Steers and their quarterback jabbed their way to an early lead. They kept Kaufman off balance with wheel route after wheel route and landed a couple of knockdowns with big plays down the field.
Rather than stay firmly planted with their faces firmly on the mat, the Lions shook off the cobwebs, stood up and rallied back.
They reached the red zone three times using Glick and Buckley to penetrate the Steers' hardened defense and made critical stops that pacified Graham's attack early into the second half.
In the end, though, early Graham's momentum was too much to overcome. Peterson said that didn't mean Kaufman or its Lions aren't prepared for the coming rigors of padded 4A play.
"It's not easy to make it to the top eight in this tournament. The expectations were high and we had a big bullseye on our backs. To come down here and do as well as we did, I'll take that all day," Peterson said. "More importantly, it built the team morale and team character. It's not everyone [on the team] but they were in a competitive environment against the best kids in the state. And they're all going to come out, work hard and get better during 2-a-days, too."
As for a possible Kaufman-Graham postseason rematch? Collier said the landscape changes with the addition of helmets and bone-crushing hits.
"It's a lot different when there are pads involved and you can let loose," he said. "I don't think they can handle that or us when the hitting begins and they start taking a toll."