INOLA — When talk about high school sports comes up in town, Inola High School football isn’t often the topic.
After all, Longhorn football teams have made fewer than five trips to the playoffs in the past 15 years.
But the five senior members of the 2006 Inola squad — Tyler Barnett, Jacob McDaniel, Brian Melone, Gene Tyler and Jason Yoder — would like to see that trend change beginning with this season.
“It would be great if we could bring football back to people’s attention,” said Melone, a returning starter on the offensive and defensive lines.
“Inola is known for having good basketball teams, but we want to be known for football, too.”
Barnett, a two-way starter at tight end and defensive end, agrees.
“Inola has never really been a football town. But we think we can really shock the town this year.”
McDaniel, a reserve quarterback and starting strong safety, takes his teammates’ comments even one step further.
“I think we’ll shock people and shock even ourselves this year,” he said.
Considering Inola’s lack of football success through the years and with the Longhorns coming off a 1-9 season in 2005, one might think the comments made by the seniors to be a little outlandish.
But not for this group, all of whom (except Melone) started playing football together in the fifth grade. Melone joined his classmates on the gridiron in the seventh grade.
The class has seen life on both sides of the fence while at Inola.
A 6-5 team that made it to the first round of the playoffs two years ago faded last season.
Since the end of the 2005 campaign, this senior class has been working on improving, playing as a team and honing leadership skills to revitalize Longhorn football.
“Leadership is a big factor,” McDaniel said. “No matter whether you lead by example or by what you may tell a teammate on the field.”
And leadership from upperclassmen has been a missing link in previous seasons.
“As far as seniors go, we haven’t had a group of seniors leading the team,” Barnett said.
But that has begun to change in the last two years since the arrival of head coach James Cheatham.
Cheatham, former head coach at Stilwell, initiated a program to show Longhorn seniors how to serve as leaders. That program, now in its second year, draws big raves from the group of fourth-year Inola players.
“Coach Cheatham’s class has helped us lead the team,” Melone said. “The underclassmen look up to us and look over at us and what we’re doing. They say, ‘If the seniors don’t have to do something, then why should I.’ So, as a senior, you want to give your best effort.”
“In the past, I don’t think our seniors really knew how to lead,” McDaniel said. “But with Coach Cheatham’s class we received a pamphlet with guidelines so we seniors have a good idea of how to lead the team.”
Another impact Cheatham has had on the Longhorn program has been with the players’ work ethic.
He had the words “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender” printed on the team’s practice jerseys a year ago.
“We work hard … period … in practice,” Barnett said. “That type of attitude shows more than talent on the field.”
Added McDaniel: “We have worked hard in the preseason and summer. I think it will be hard for us not to be successful based on how much we have worked.”
Melone noted how fellow linemen began preparation for the upcoming campaign several months ago.
“As soon as the football season was over last year, three of our offensive linemen began working out in the weight room and have continued doing so through the offseason. If you work hard and push yourself, it’s hard not to give your best effort on the field.”
Cheatham also motivates by stressing “The 3 C’s—Commitment, Character and Confidence” to the Longhorn squad.
“Those are his favorite three words,” Barnett said.
The head coach’s approach, coupled with the hard work and desire for success by the Inola seniors, has hopes high for Longhorn football in 2006.
“I do really believe that people can look for us in the playoffs,” McDaniel said.
“That’s a major team goal for us this year,” added Barnett. “We do believe in ourselves more this year.”
If that type of belief translates into victories on the field, talk around Inola in the future could certainly include the accomplishments of the Longhorn football program.