Round Rock is a Central Texas city with a population of nearly 100,000, almost double that of only eight years ago. Most Texans probably consider it a northern suburb of Austin. But as the home of Dell computers and Nolan Ryan's successful Triple-A baseball team, Round Rock prefers to stand on its own.
Nothing creates identity in Texas like success in football, and the city is one victory away from having its first state high school football finalist -- courtesy of the newer of the two Class 5A football programs in town, Stony Point (13-1). The Tigers will face the Allen Eagles (13-1 and ranked third in ESPN RISE's Fab 50) in a Division I semifinal on Saturday in Waco.
This might be the biggest thing to hit town since cross-town Round Rock High put its 1995 yearbook on CD-ROM, believed to be the first high school in the country to do so.
"The whole community is very excited," said Jim Loerwald, athletic director for the Round Rock school district. "It's true for the whole school district."
"Super-excited" was the description used by Alan McGraw, a local real estate attorney who also is the mayor. McGraw's daughter attends Round Rock High, which won the 5A baseball title in 1997.
"I'm really happy with where we're at," said Craig Chessher, Stony Point's head coach since 2004. "Right now, life is good."
That's not how Chessher was feeling one season after he was hired for his first high school head coaching job. Fresh off a Galena Park North Shore staff that led the Mustangs to a 5A state title in 2003, Chessher signed on with Stony Point, a school that fielded its first varsity team in 2000 and had only two district wins to show after four seasons. The 2003 Tigers finished 1-9 and closed with nine consecutive losses.
Chessher's first team went 0-10.
"I didn't realize to what extent what repairs were going to have to be made," he said. "It was a very humbling task."
So much so that Chessher considered accepting a head coaching offer back in his native Houston following that winless first season.
"I came here to do a job, and I've talked to these kids about persevering. So I just hung in there and tried to get it done," he said.
The Round Rock school district actually contains four high schools (McNeil and Westwood have Austin addresses). Stony Point has the largest enrollment not only in the district but in all of Central Texas. Its student population is more than 50 percent minority and is the most diverse high school in the Round Rock district. Loerwald, an associate athletic director when Chessher was hired, said Chessher's energy and experience with a top-notch program like North Shore and familiarity with a diverse school all made him the man for the job.
At first, Chessher was losing kids to the other district high schools through transfer loopholes. Those were soon closed, and the program took baby steps after the 0-10 start with a pair of 3-7 seasons.
The breakthrough year was 2007: Stony Point has its first winning record (8-2 regular season), first district title and first playoff berth (beating Bryan and losing to Spring Westfield). The nine wins overall were more than the previous five years combined. The offense averaged more than 36 points per game and was led by junior quarterback Nyk McKissic, who threw for 2,087 yards.
Chessher said his goal this season was simply to repeat as district champion, believing post-season improvement would take care of itself. His experience at North Shore, where unbeaten regular seasons didn't always translate into championships, taught him not to make assumptions based on regular-season play.
The Tigers have averaged more than 34 points behind the passing of McKissic (2,023 yards with 18 TD passes compared to three interceptions) and the running of senior Glasco Martin (1,523 yards rushing). The defense, Chessher's specialty as an assistant coach, has turned up the heat behind senior defensive end Tevin Mims. Stony Point hasn't allowed more than two touchdowns in a game since mid-season and has outscored its four playoff opponents 128-34.
And now Stony Point stands where no other high school football team from Round Rock ever has.
"Just take each game as a football game. Try not to get lost in the enormity of the situation," Chessher said. "I think the kids are even keeled. I don't think they get too excited."
They'll leave that to everyone else in town.
Jeff Miller is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.