Scattered throughout Germantown are signs “Committed to the H.” They were put up by those who are committed to doing something for Houston’s football team.
The only thing difference in Houston’s team motto this season is the ed.
“Commit to the H” encourages players to be good citizens, being prepared and do their best on Friday nights said second-year head coach James Thomas.
“I have got a lot of good kids. They like playing with each other. When you get a group that not only plays well with each other on the field but also hangs out with each other off the field they are more apt to push that extra little bit to help each other and try not to let each other down,” said Thomas.
“I think that is a huge factor in everything you do. They can always look to each other for support. That is an intangible that every coach wants.”\
“I have been around where you have a lot of turmoil that can tear a team up in a hurry. When you play for each other you have a chance to be successful.”
The Mustangs go south to open and close the regular season. They host Southaven at 7 p.m. Friday in the season opener and finish with Southwind Nov. 1 at home.
Central has replaced crosstown rival Germantown for the second game.
“They are not a region opponent. We were looking for something different,” said Thomas. “Central will be a big opponent for us. Germantown may come on the schedule in the future, we’ll see. Our rivalry has turned away from Germantown, into Collierville. They are a region (7-6A) opponent. Students and players know each other.”
Collierville also will not play Germantown during the regular season. However, both Collierville and Houston could meet the Red Devils (Region 8-6A) in the playoffs.
A graduate of Houston, Thomas enters this season in a better position he said with one year under his belt.
“Last year I got a late start. The first part of the year I was trying to get the job, then once you get the job, you try to put together a staff and end up scrambling here and there. It was kind of a whirlwind.”
Thomas is trying to teach life lessons to his players on and off the gridiron.
“It’s not just about the game. It’s about learning how to be a good father, a good husband. When you graduate it’s learning how to go on and compete in the business world. I am trying to make good people as well as good players,” he said.
This first year taught Thomas lessons.
“I learned real quick I can’t please everybody. It’s best not to beat yourself up about it. With any decision that is made, its good to bounce ideas off other people. When you make that decision you stand behind it and go with it, stay true to yourself and try not to please everybody because you are not going to please everybody. If you are doing something that is right then go with it wholeheartedly.”
There is a comradery among coaches that makes it easy to come to work.
“We get along really well. We spend a lot of time doing this. When you’ve got a great group of kids and great group of guys to work with it makes it easy,” Thomas said.
“I love the kids. They keep you young. With 95 kids in the program, you have a lot of different personalities. Each kid responds is a different way. You try to figure them out. I love trying to figure out what makes a kid tick and trying to get the best out of him.”
What you won’t hear from Thomas is talk of winning a state championship. It is doing the “little things” daily to make sure the team is in position to make a playoff run at the end of the regular season.
“It’s the overall grind. You start in the spring. You go summer workouts. You start putting things in in summer, working towards your goal, not necessarily saying we want to win a state championship. If you take care of your responsibility, at the end of the day, we are going to be in it, we are going to have a chance. In order to have a chance you have to take your responsibility and do it well.”
The Mustangs’ goal is to win the region championship which assures a playoff.
“You take that step, stay within ourselves and do the things we do, take advantage of other people’s mistakes, we have a chance to win.
“My job is to remind them, don’t worry about what we did last year because you have to go get it again and do the things that made you successful last year and do it even harder and better.”
Last season the Mustangs (10-2) won the school’s first region championship.
Running back Lincoln Pare, who is a captain along with Nathan Havrda, Hank Pearson, Jerron Watson, said, “It’s a clean slate.”
Pearson, a tight end/ linebacker, said a strength of the team is getting along with each other.
“I think the team last year had that. That is really important to be friendly with your teammates and be able to talk out situations on the field.”
“They are really a loose group. They like to have fun. They are not the kind of guys they don’t take it too seriously. This is a game and they realize they are going to take it serious enough. It’s not life or death.”
Pearson said that he is more prepared this season than last because he has changed his body to play at a high level offensively and defensively.
Strength and conditioning coach Raheem Shabazz “had a lot to do” with Pearson changing through diet, weightlifting and conditioning.
“I compete in practice better instead of coming in with no energy. I think it plays a big role to be in shape and help whether that be offense, defense, special teams, anything they need me to do I am willing to do it.
“I think I bring leadership to the table and the ability to be vocal so I lead by my actions. I think I can hold people accountable as well as they hold me accountable to whatever is going on whether it be on or off the field.
“I am pretty self-motivated. A lot of it has to do with wanting to not let the guys down who are playing just as hard as I am beside me, not wanting to have that weight on my shoulders that I could have done something more that wouldn’t have cost us something.”
Quarterback Ethan Burns, a senior, said, “We are the oldest now. There is no looking to someone else. The younger guys look at you now so you have to set the example.”
Burns sees an example in Thomas.
“He knows how to run the practices. He knows how to win games.”
Said Pearson, “My motivation comes a lot from the guys on the field and playing for them, Lincoln, Ethan, everybody, being able to stand by them, play for them and try to get wins.”
Pare said that he looks up the coaching staff and his father Mike Pare.
Burns, whose favorite Bible verse is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” said he never takes for granted his ability to pass and run. “Not everybody has that.”
Maintaining ultimate focus for 48 minutes no matter which 11 are playing, working as a cohesive unit, everyone being on the same page and realizing whatever play is called, all players have a role in it along with everybody on the sidelines as well are teaching points for Thomas.
“I always hard everybody on the team of 60 something varsity players, there are only11 who are going to be on the field but everybody on that field has a role. Never diminish that role. If your role is to get a call in, make sure everybody is at the right spot then that is what you need to do. If your role is to get everybody hyped up on the sidelines, your role, your job, is to do it to the best of your ability.”
What got the Mustangs beat last year were the little things said Thomas, who has been harping to do little things correctly.
“You have got to bring the right stuff to practice, to make sure the locker room is clean, make sure you have prepared your body for practice, hydration, putting the right fuel in your body. “
All those are steps toward the end goal.
“Last year we had a lot more attendance from the community. I think that is really important to have especially with such a physical contact sport you need people cheering for you,” said Pearson.
Away from the cheers Pare, who jumped 45 feet off a Jamaican cliff two years ago while on vacation, likes to fish and play video games. Burns and Pearson also play video games.
With games starting Friday, Thomas said, “I don’t like to say we want to get to the third round or get to the fourth round. I want them to embrace the process it takes to get there. If we do that the sky is the limit for us.”