HEARTS OF CHAMPIONS: Texas City Stingarees

Last-minute turnarounds are a trademark for the Texas City Stingarees, nicknamed "The Cardiac Kids"

By Kim Goss
Published: Summer 1998
Rusty Dowling, head football coach at Texas City High School, believes that the style of football his team plays is one reason a lot of cardiologists move to Texas. "We've made a habit of coming from behind and winning—about six times in the past two years." Even though they've become common, those last-minute turnarounds are enough to raise blood pressures into the critical zone. Just ask the 35,000 fans who attended last year's Division 4A State Championship Game.

Going into the fourth quarter of the big game, the Texas City Stingarees led by 24 points, but their opponents from Corsicana High School started making things happen on both sides of the ball. With just three minutes to go, the Stingarees had been stung badly and fell behind by four points. Although Dowling won't say that he was calm and knew everything would work out just fine, he does recall that no one panicked. "Our team was very confident, emotionally and physically. I just told them, ‘We've done it before and we can do it again.'" His confidence was justified.

Snapping the ball on their own 35-yard line after the kickoff, Texas City drove the length of the field in two minutes to score the final points of the game for a 37-34 victory. Perhaps it's all in a day's work for Texas City, but is it any wonder the team is nicknamed "The Cardiac Kids"?

As for the heroes of the game, Dowling says that Adrien Daniels "had a phenomenal game." A tailback, Daniels racked up 204 all-purpose yards and was named the game's MVP. On defense, Dowling singled out the contribution of linebacker Everick Rawls, who made key stops during the big plays and was very active on the field. "Everick is one of those kids who is always involved in the big plays. When there's a big stop to be made, a running back to bring down or a pass to be deflected or intercepted, Everick is always around the ball."

The Building Blocks of the Best

Located 30 miles southeast of Houston, Texas City High School is like most Midwestern schools in that football is a passion, and not just at the pro level. Winning is important, and attracting 10,000 fans for regular-season high school games is the norm. Because they take their football seriously, many high schools in the state have college-level weight rooms and a staff of strength coaches.

Jeff Dicus has been a strength coach for 13 years and has been with Texas City since 1991. Prior, he helped bring Mission High School in Mission, Texas, from a 1-9 record to the semifinals. He also spent some time working for BFS and the Utah Jazz. A graduate of the University of South Dakota, Dicus played both tight end and receiver and credits his hard work in the weight room for his success on the field. "I didn't have the physical gifts of those I played
against, so I had to compensate with discipline and hard work. I was an overachiever."

Dicus became inspired to become a strength coach after he saw a BFS clinic put on by BFS President Dr. Greg Shepard, and he has been a big proponent of the system ever since. "I'm in total agreement with the BFS program," says Dicus. "It's one of the most extraordinary programs that anybody can get on." About his mentor, Dicus says, "The best thing about Greg is that his whole program is about improving the kid, not only in his athletic endeavors but
also in his total life skills."

According to Dicus, one of the big pluses about BFS is its simplicity. He says the program fits the high school setting "to a ‘T'" and says he doesn't have to sell it to his players. "Our kids have seen the results and they know we've been able to turn around other programs through what we do in the off-season. It's been easy here because we've been able to see the results."

Dicus, who also served as offensive coordinator, says the BFS conditioning philosophy is perfect for their Multiple-I, ball control offense. "We're pretty much going to come right at you and establish our power game. I feel that what we do in the off-season is a key ingredient in the success that we've had over the last several years."

Big State, Big Numbers

For football, Dicus's favorite lifts include the power clean, push press, back and front squats, lunges, bench and incline press, and the military press. "Those are our core lifts that we are going to make sure we hit heavy, and then we add more specific lifts." The result of such a sound training system is that last year three football players power cleaned 300 and twelve did at least 250, two squatted over 600 and six did over 500, and two benched over 400 and seven did over 300.

Although the deadlift is a part of his program, Dicus prefers to emphasize the power clean and has no reservations about teaching it to kids and encouraging other coaches to try it. Furthermore, he believes that the critics of the lift are those who simply do not know how to teach it. "I think that's a lot of it, but that's one of the things that we've been able to do here which has put us ahead of a lot of programs. It's not that we just go out and do the power clean. We take our time teaching it, breaking down the lift into phases. We start with the deadlift, then work on the high pull and then the rack position. You've got to break it down." As an added incentive to put forth 100 percent in the weight room, every May the coaches put on what Dicus calls a "strength show" with the football team. "We do all of our testing on stage in the auditorium for the high school student body and the community. We put the spotlights on them and blare the music—it's just unbelievable. Last year about 700 fans came to watch."

Concerning injuries, Dicus says, "We have been blessed. Over the last several years we haven't had any injuries in the weight room. Also, because our depth is very minimal, in our practices we don't do any tackling where we're going to take them to the ground."

Although other athletes use the weight room, Dicus says all the workouts are designed along similar lines. "It goes along with Greg's philosophy of training the core lifts, and adding auxiliary lifts that are specific to each sport. And the girls lift right alongside the boys." As for assistance exercises, he favors dumbbell movements because he believes they more effectively improve stability and flexibility, and because they offer a high degree of variety that keeps the motivation high. As for machines, Dicus doesn't use them much because he doesn't think they are appropriate for his situation. "We use predominantly free weights. That's our major emphasis, and that's what we believe in."

There are a lot of distractions facing high school students, and discipline can be a problem in some football programs, but Dicus says Texas City has found an approach that works. "We put a lot of responsibility and accountability on our kids, and I think self-discipline plays a big part in their success—not only on the field but in the classroom as well. These kids are very hard workers. They never missed a workout this summer, did everything they were asked to do, and put in a great effort doing it. Good things come to those who are willing to take on that level of responsibility."

This year the strength program will be taken over by Todd McVay and Tim Finn, as Dicus has accepted the position of head coach at Boerne High School in Boerne, Texas. Dicus is excited about his new challenge, and his new motto is "We can get it done at Boerne!"

With the pressure doubled from defending their championship and losing a lot of players to graduation, the odds are stacked against Texas City of making it two in a row. "We're going to be young, and we'll be playing a lot of sophomores and juniors," says Dowling. "Though repeating might be difficult, I look for us in two or three years to be on top again."

Texas City Stingarees

Players, Coaches and Fans celebrate their Championship victory in the Houston Astro Dome.

Coach Dicus with Championship MVP Adrien Daniels who racked up 404 total offensive yards during the game.