Tonight’s senior night contest against DeKalb might be the final game of the regular season for the Elysian Fields football team but the Yellow Jackets are hoping to extend their season into the playoffs.
“We don’t want this to be the last game, I’ll tell you that,” Elysian Fields athletic director and head football coach Scott Ford said. “One of two things is going to happen Monday – we’ll either put the shoulder pads up or we’re going to be getting ready to play a football game. For these seniors, I really hope it’s the ladder on that deal.”
“We’ve only got four seniors but they’re great leaders on and off the field,” said Will Ford, a junior wide receiver and son of the head coach.
“They’re the best four seniors you can ask for,” Jackson Illingworth, a junior wide receiver and middle linebacker said, adding, “It’s kind of sad, honestly, because, like I said, I haven’t been here long but I’ve already grown close to them and just seeing those guys as seniors, knowing next year, that’s what I’m going to be.”
Illingworth joined the Yellow Jackets after moving from Benton, Louisiana. While growing up there, he dreamed of what it would be like when his time came to play high school football.
“When you’re young, just putting the pads on and the helmet on is just fun,” Illingworth said. “Football is a just a lot of fun. When you get older, it’s still fun but you take it a little more seriously. When you’re little, you’re always looking up to those high schoolers and thinking, ‘That’s going to be me one day.’ When you’re little, you see everything as being so glamorous but being from Louisiana, it’s still big over there but then coming over here and playing in Texas, it’s definitely different. It’s living to the hype. The same butterflies I felt as a fourth grader are the same ones I get on Friday nights when I run out there.”
It was family that brought Illingworth to Elysian Fields.
“My mom grew up here and we wanted to get back into Texas,” he explained.
“Jackson has been a great move-in, a tremendous asset and he’s got a younger brother who’s on an undefeated eighth-grade team and will be a heck of a player,” the coach said of the team’s new linebacker. “The thing I’m most proud of for him is, for one, it’s always hard being the new kid and to transition on so many different levels, socially and friends and losing friends where you came from and just the whole deal of moving and getting an entirely different athletic program. He had not played defense last year at Benton and I think right now, he’s the best middle linebacker in the district.”
So far on the season, Illingworth has 112 tackles, eight of which were behind the line of scrimmage, including four sacks to go along with his six quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles. On offense, he has 15 catches for 275 yards and two touchdowns. He also has four two-point conversions.
“He’s really become a weapon for us on offense because he’s had to learn two new systems on both sides of the ball and we’ve kind of had to re-evaluate him. We had eight kids on offense and he had to transition his way into that and find his way. Now that he’s gotten completely comfortable on the defensive side of the ball, we’re certainly going to utilize him more on the offensive side of the ball without asking too much of him.”
As a coach’s son, Will has always been around the game and he too dreamed about what it would be like to step on the field as a varsity football player.
“I always remember being on the sidelines with my dad, watching all the varsity football players, thinking, ‘My time’s coming,’ running through the tunnel,” Will said. “It looks so easy from the stands but whenever you get down there on the field and in the moment, it’s a way different.”
“We have a receiver award called the RBI award,” coach Ford said. “Of course it’s a baseball analogy – runner batted in, except a receiver gets a block downfield to help us get a first down or a touchdown, and he’s leading the team in that. I’m real proud of him for taking pride in blocking. I played wide receiver and I told him, ‘I never blocked anybody in high school.’ He’s a whole lot better at blocking than I was.”
The Fords say they don’t discuss a lot of football at home.
“We don’t really talk about it at home,” Will said. “We leave it at the fieldhouse. If I have a question about something, I’ll ask him but it really doesn’t get brought up.”
“We don’t talk a lot of football,” the head coach said. “If it is discussed, it’s something that happened at practice or we want to watch a play on Hudl, or if we implemented something on Monday, he may come in and ask me to go over it but other than that, we leave football at the fieldhouse. There’s enough pressure on him as it is. I don’t want him to be worried about what’s going on in football for 24 hours. Thankfully, he’s a lot more well rounded. He’s into a lot of things. Football is an important part of his life but it’s also a small part of his life. I’m as proud of that as I am anything. He hasn’t put all his eggs in one basket.”
Right now, Illingworth, the Fords and their Jackets are currently 5-4 overall and 3-3 in district play as they fight for a playoff berth but the two juniors believe their team is better than what its record shows.
“Coming into this season, we were preseason top 25, expected, in our opinions, to win district, then losing a couple games we shouldn’t have lost and like our coaches have told us, we’re like five plays away from being 7-1 and you’ve just got to keep that mentality,” Illingworth said. “We’re definitely taking it play-by-play and we still see ourselves as one of the top dogs in the district.”
Elysian Fields is set to host a DeKalb team that currently holds an overall record of 6-3 and a district record of 3-3.
“They’re big, they’re physical and they’re going to come off the ball,” Will said of the Bears.
“They’re going to try to run the football down our throats,” Illingworth added. “We’ve just got to contain them and make a run to the football on the outside and that will be our key to stop them.”
“On defense, they’re manned up all the way across,” Will offered. “We’ve just got to do what we do best.”
“DeKalb is a good football team,” the elder Ford said. “They’re physical and they have better athletes than they’ve had in the past. They just play hard. They’re 6-3. They beat Daingerfield, they’re the only team that did that. At the end of the day, it’s time for us to show up and play our best game. Our kids have not wavered in their commitment to get better.”
Tonight’s game between E.F. and DeKalb is slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Jacket Stadium.