In Texas, almost all high schools emphasize the importance of football as the top athletic program by giving the head football coach the title and responsibilities of the campus’ athletic director as well.
And then there is Dallas Thomas Jefferson High School.
Since the glory days of the 1960’s, TJ has struggled in its athletic endeavors -- to put it nicely. Just this season, the TJ football team snapped a 36-game losing streak.
Two years ago, DISD and Thomas Jefferson made a statement that was far from popular.
Tomas Sanchez came onboard to take over the head coach position for the TJ boys soccer team and to assume the title of the school’s athletic director.
Hiding in the enormous shadow of athletic shortcomings in the major sports at TJ is the boys soccer team, which returns to the 4A regional tournament for the second time since 2006 and has become the marquee program of the school and the community.
“When I took this job, one of my primary goals was to get the spirit and the winning attitude that was here in the 60’s that is totally gone,” Sanchez said. “I’m lucky I’m the soccer coach because I can use my team as a role model for the other teams to emulate. I’m hoping this is going to spark a resurrection to our sports.”
The program is in the midst of a historic season, breaking the school's previous record of playoff wins with four. While the 2006 team also made the regional semifinals, it took only three wins to get there. Now, there is an additional sectional round that this TJ team overcame in route to the regional semifinals.
Overcoming adversity has been the theme of TJ’s play this season, coming into almost every round of the playoffs as a huge underdog on paper.
TJ beat Royse City in the bi-district round to face a Mesquite Poteet team that had knocked TJ out of the playoffs last year in a shootout.
TJ got redemption, knocking off Poteet in a shootout.
Next, were athletic powerhouse Lucas Lovejoy and state tournament favorite Highland Park in the sectional and regional quarterfinal rounds. TJ knocked out Highland Park, 2-0.
“It’s helped us to be ready for this level with the East Texas teams coming in,” Sanchez said. “Those schools had a height advantage physically and it’s a little bit different style of play. They play more long ball and we play a more possession game.”
What makes TJ a true underdog in the regional tournament is the presence of just two players who have club experience in the starting lineup.
TJ's goal in this regional tournament is not only to advance to state, but to also become the first boys DISD program to earn a trip to the soccer final four.
Standing in its way is 4A state runner-up Kilgore, who ended Dallas Bryan Adams' dream of representing DISD in Georgetown for the first time last year. However, with the teams that have fallen to TJ in 2012, these underdogs might be the favorites to make history.
Also in 4A regional tournament action from the area are Crowley and Carrollton R.L. Turner.
The Region I tournament offers the potential rematch of District 11-4A rivals Birdville and Trophy Club Byron Nelson.
Their first meeting early in district play ended in a 1-1 push after regulation and two overtime periods.
Byron Nelson took the second match with a 2-0 win, giving it the second seed out of the district over Birdville.
Both schools face West Texas opponents in the semifinal round but could meet in the region final at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Read Oak and Carrollton Creekview meet in the only all DFW matchup in the 4A Region II semifinals.
Highland Park also has a shot at the state tournament from Region II.