There is no rest for a champion.
There is no rest for a champion.
Just 16 days after winning the 2020 Class 6A, Division II state football championship, head coach Gary Joseph and the Katy Tigers will initiate the offseason program for the 2021 season on Monday, Feb. 1.
“It’s always about the next one,” Joseph said. “I don’t know if you totally ever unwind. I will talk with the seniors about how they’re going to finish the school year, their legacies, and ordering (championship) rings. You have kids who aren’t going to play in college, but they were great high school football players. I’ll talk to them about what they accomplished. They might not even realize it. Others that still have a chance to play in college begin preparation.”
Simply put, work remains.
Joseph wrapped up his 17th season as a head coach with his fifth state championship. He owns a career record of 227-22, an unreal winning percentage of 91.2 percent. He has been a head coach or assistant coach for eight of Katy’s nine state titles.
And yet, still, one of the best in his profession awaits the next challenge.
“As a staff, we’ll get back into meetings, breakdowns and start focusing on next year,” Joseph said. “We don’t have time to sit and gloat. We have to get out of this celebratory mode and into a grind mode again. We will. It will always be about the next one around here.”
Joseph has sustained a culture established by Mike Johnston predicated upon five principles: trust, respect, character, unselfishness and work ethic. The 2020 season encapsulated all of that.
Joseph sat down with the Katy Times on Tuesday, Jan. 26, to discuss another state championship season, the toughest coaching job of his distinguished career.
Q: On Jan. 20, you were recognized as the Houston TD Club Coach of the Year. What does that mean to you?
A: “It’s an honor for the school. You’re not going to get this without a great coaching staff, and I’ve got really good coaches. Something like this is a true reflection on your organization, from the athletic director on down to the building principal. It’s important in this day and age to be able to hire good coaches, and we’ve got people that work real well with us.”
Q: Was this season the toughest coaching job of your career, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and other things that went on during it?
A: “Considering all circumstances, yes. The not knowing when or who you’ll play, or how many kids are having to be tested. It was very difficult from that standpoint, but every state championship we’ve won has had a degree of difficulty to it. None have been easy. This one wasn’t easy in itself, but these kids had to be very resilient with no spring training and working a lot of hours in June and July to make up on an offseason they missed. They put in the time and closed their circle and sacrificed just to have a chance to play football, let alone compete for a state title.”
Q: If you were told you’d have to deal with the pandemic, the (running back) Brandon Campbell (transfer in/leave) situation early, the effects of social injustice protests, a complicated quarterback situation, and in-season injuries to key players, all that adversity, how impressive was it for your kids to stay focused and stay on task?
A: “It’s impressive, but there were a lot of things they had no control over, like the pandemic, kids coming and leaving. The only thing they could control was themselves and their attitude about things. That’s what we focus on. I’ve often said we don’t worry about what we don’t have, we take care of the players we do have.”
Q: You talked about culture being the commitment of the kids. Are you surprised or impressed in the consistent commitment of your kids, of this group, in this modern age of the high school student-athlete?
A: “That’s the difference, in my opinion, in this program from a lot of programs. These kids are willing to sacrifice so they can win championships. Too many kids are worried about getting scholarships. You get scholarships because of winning championships and because of the people we’ll see and how noticed we’ll be. You have to have kids willing to buy-in to what we’re doing, and most understand that we’ve been successful, and we know what we’re doing.”
Q: It was an odd, long season. What will you remember as the most challenging or oddest thing about it?
A: “We’ve never had to play until January 16. You start thinking about it, and our coaches started this thing in June, and you go through January 16. That’s a challenge in itself. How do you adjust to playing at Christmas or the day after New Year’s? Those are things people take for granted. It was hard on us as coaches, but it was just the next week. But I can only imagine what it was like for the kids. They’re practicing on Christmas Eve and breaking routines and playing the day after New Year’s. It’ll probably never happen again; I don’t know. I’m very thankful we got the chance to play. It was a long deal, but it was well worth it.”
Q: The players have talked a lot about the sacrifices and circumstances they endured to compete this year. What was it like for the coaches to keep this season going?
A: “You feel for your coaches because of the work they put in. We adjusted practice times; we did a lot on Zoom. Just like the kids, they had to get tested. I didn’t want them to miss out on going on vacation (in the summer) with their families, but a lot of them felt like they needed to be here. They were adamant about it, about being a part of what was going on.”
Q: What do you feel was the turning point or epiphany of the season, when you could see you had a team that could compete for a state championship?
A: “Probably the game I felt like was going to be the determining factor of whether we could compete at that level was Shadow Creek (in the regional semifinal). They were coming off a championship in 5A (in 2019), very talented, with a quarterback going to Baylor. We knew we’d have to play extremely well, and it was also the week where we played right after Christmas. That’s the game that showed the kids they had the ability to play at a high level.”
Q: A lot is made of the Division I/Division II playoff roads in the postseason and what each present in Class 6A. What is your reaction when you hear people say that the Division II road is easier?
A: “It’s a cycle thing. I really believe that. When we won in 2015, or made the (state semifinal) run in 2017, there was Cy-Ranch and Manvel, and they were as good as anybody in the city. Manvel was undefeated both years. North Shore’s been good enough the last three years to beat anybody in the state and has won state championships. It’s about where you land in the cycle. Shadow Creek moving up (from Class 5A to 6A), Division II is better because of them. You’re seeing more bigger schools in Division I, but what’s a big school? It’s just how the (enrollment) numbers fall. It’ll be tough whichever way you go. For us and the path we went this year, I have no problem with it. It was important for us. We played a Slot-T team in the semifinals and we’d never seen that. It’s all about how you adjust.”
Q: A lot’s been talked about the resilience of this team, the leadership, the defense, the Davis brothers. What is something overlooked and not talked about enough?
A: “The story of this year was the kids who stepped up, like (senior tight end) Emilio Silva. He ends up starting 13 games and was supposed to be a backup. He’s played three different positions since he’s been here because of need. He’s a program kid. (Senior nose tackle) Cohen Dearman solidified our defensive front, doing a great job when we moved him inside (from defensive end); undersized, but taking hits and punishment and dealing it out, too. His presence and maturity was a catalyst for us. (Senior linebacker) Jaden Maronen, a three-year letterman who started for the first time this year. Some of our kids who really came through for us played on the JV last year. It goes to prove that if they have a work ethic and they want it bad enough, they can get better. We had offensive linemen (junior Dylan Erickson, junior Caleb Webb) that stepped up. People like (senior defensive end and state championship Defensive Player of the Game) Cal Varner was a JV player last year. We had injuries to kids, and kids like (junior defensive end) Cayde Robertson stepped in and we didn’t miss a beat. It’s a complement to them and their preparation. We had a sophomore nose tackle (Isaiah Ybarra) who we had to move to tight end and played quite a bit in the state championship game. A lot of these kids don’t get the playing time until they’re needed, but that’s why they practice every day. It’s not about the superstars. It’s about the kids who want-to bad enough and find a role and are able to contribute. You have to have depth to survive, and we did.”
Q: I talked to a lot of players who said they wanted to win for you. (Sophomore running back) Seth Davis said he was so concerned about practicing last spring because he didn’t want to get you sick. (Senior defensive back) Dalton Johnson said the bond he has with you is what a bond should be between player and coach. When you hear that kind of respect and admiration, in your 17th year as head coach, what do you credit about what you’re doing that keeps players playing hard for their head coach?
A: “More than anything else, they know it’s not about me. It’s about our legacy at this school. It’s about what we’re doing, and we’re going to do it together. I’m thankful that they know we care for them and that we’re going to love them. It’s the discipline they learn and what they learn about respect and doing the little things right. My dad taught me as a coach to take care of your kids. It’s about the kids. They have to know you love them and care for them before they play for you. Our kids know that. I’m thankful they’re willing to sacrifice to do this. Not everybody is.”