When the Aledo Bearcats held their first football practice back on August 10th, every player on the team knew they would probably still be playing in December.
It's pretty much the tradition of Aledo to be playing -- most likely it's always Thanksgiving, and most of the time December," said linebacker Danny Heiss.
"We pretty much expect to go to the playoffs," added Cy Wilson, a defensive end. "I don't know if that sound arrogant or anything like that, but just the level of tradition here, we've been in the playoffs 14 years in a row, so I don't know what it's like not to be in the playoffs, so we're pretty blessed."
Head coach Tim Buchanan took over the Aledo program in 1993. In 17 seasons since, Buchanan's Bearcats have won 169 games and lost only 48. They have made it at least two rounds deep into the playoffs every year since 1996.
"Probably the common denominator is that our kids believe they are going to win," said Buchanan. "They work hard every day, trying to make sure they are part of a winning program."
Guard Hunter Stockon agreed. "We're always working hard. Kids out here just love to play and love to win, we expect to win. And we work hard, it seems like all year round.
It's a cliche, but at programs like Aledo, the football season is a marathon, not a sprint, and as such, it's up to Buchanan to make sure his coaches and players pace themselves.
"We don't want them ready for the playoffs in August. We don't want them ready for the playoffs in February," said Buchanan. "We want them ready for the playoffs in November and December, and that's not just the kids, it's for the coaches also, and trying to keep kids and coaches and everyone fresh and excited when November and December get here."
The Bearcats won the state championship in 1998 when they were in class 3A. Since moving up to 4A in 2002, Aledo has been to the state semi-finals four times, including this year. It's not easy to win a state title, but every year this program gives itself a pretty good chance.
"And these kids get kind of spoiled," said Buchanan, "because we've been to the (semi-finals), since we've been a 4A team, this is going to be the fourth time we've been to the semi's, and they kind of expect it, which is good, but you have to realize it may not happen next year."
"He's always constantly reminding us that," said Stockon. "I mean, this is our last run because I 'm a senior and all this but the guys below us might not get this far next year."
I wouldn't bet on it.