The 2022 football season went down as one of the greatest in Big Country history. Now, it will be fascinating to see what 2023 will bring.
Albany and Hawley won Class 2A Division II and Division I state championships, respectively, last season. And that was just part of the story.
Albany’s Denney Faith is the longest-tenured coach in Texas high school football. His 344 wins – all at Albany – are the fifth most in Texas history. The Lions have won at least 10 games in 12 of the last 14 seasons. Albany, which won state titles in 1960 and 1961, had been to the state finals four times previously under Faith (1991, 2009, 2014 and 2015), but had never won it all until a 41-21 win over Mart last December at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The Big Country football world was thrilled for Faith to finally claim his first state championship.
Meanwhile, it was a Cinderella season for Mitch Ables and Hawley. The Bearcats had been to the playoffs only three times in 46 years of football before Ables arrived at Hawley in 2014. This year, the Bearcats went 16-0 and won the school’s first state championship with a 54-28 win over Refugio.
When you throw in state six-man football titles for two other Big Country area teams – Westbrook and Benjamin – it was an unprecedented season of four state championships for this part of West Texas.
Albany and Hawley weren’t the only remarkable story lines last year, however. Wylie won its first district title as a Class 5A team and advanced to the Class 5A Division II state quarterfinals with a number of heart-stopping last-second finishes.
After the season was over, Albany received the Gordon Wood Award for sportsmanship and community support from the Texas High School Coaches Association. And Abilene High coach Mike Fullen was named the recipient of the THSCA’s highest honor, the Tom Landry Award, for his contribution to athletes and the game of football.
Although no Big Country volleyball team made the playoffs a year ago, there were plenty of success stories. Wylie returns most of its team that finished runner-up in District 2-5A, and Abilene High advanced three rounds in the 5A playoffs after finishing fourth in the same district last year. Hawley and Clyde both return a number of players from playoff teams last season.
So as our attention turns to the 2023 fall season, can Albany and Hawley repeat? Who will be the Cinderella story like Wylie? What volleyball teams will emerge as state tournament contenders?
If 2023 turns out to be anything like 2022, this could be a fun fall. I hope you enjoy learning about the Big Country volleyball and football teams in this year’s Varsity Preview.