Chris Softley constantly reminds his players to control what they can control.
The Lubbock Christian head coach knows while his football team can always control their attitude and effort, there are certain things they need to accept and let go. Sometimes the officials make the wrong call, sometimes their opponent makes the better play and sometimes, every two years to be exact, the state realigns its football districts. Lubbock Christian couldn’t control their reclassification from Tapps 4A to Tapps 3A and they couldn't control the schedule that resulted from it.
So now the Eagles need to control their response to a schedule consisting of five games that will have them traveling a total of 3,164 miles round trip. The high school program will travel a distance in those five games that is 87 miles longer than the mark from Massachusetts to Great Britain.
On Sept. 2 they’ll embark to Wellington on a 340-mile round trip journey. Exactly three weeks later they’ll hunker down for a 740-mile trek to Waco Reicher. On Oct. 7 they’ll settle in for a 500-mile voyage to Weatherford Christian. One week later they’ll be on a 904-mile hike to Bishop Gorman in Tyler. And finally, not counting any possible playoff matchups, they’ll finish off their marathon with a 680-mile haul to Fort Worth Temple.
Rather than lamenting the epic bus journeys it will take to get to games, Softley and his team have chosen to embrace the opportunity to grow that they’ve been presented with.
“‘What a great opportunity that we have to get on the road, to get away,” Softley said. “To really take what most would perceive as a negative, all the travel, and turn it into a positive?”
As a private school in Lubbock, the Eagles are no strangers to traveling to distant Fort Worth and Tyler to play schools in their same classification. But they’ve never been faced with a schedule like this.
In the last six years they’ve traveled in a school bus, a trailer and a van for the rest of the coaching staff that couldn’t fit. Lubbock Christian will be riding in style for their 2022 season, however, having raised enough money for a charter bus once they saw their grueling schedule. Now, every athlete and coach will be on the same bus.
Softley says the opportunity for the group to get away from their homes and spend time together will strengthen their emotional bond.
“We’ve based the program out of a motivation of love. It’s a relationship-based, transformational based program,” Softley said. “So getting on the road, getting away from distractions and even putting the phone down, those are big movers in a kid’s life and in the relationship and development we have.”
The strong connections between the players and coaches immediately stuck out to Wilson Wideman when he transferred to Lubbock Christian after his freshman year. He’s been on the varsity squad since his sophomore year and developed a unique bond with almost every coach, in part due to his do-it-all attitude as a player.
Wideman long snaps, kicks, plays on both the offensive and defensive line and even lines up at middle linebacker. Despite all those different roles, Wideman doesn’t consider himself an outlier in terms of responsibility. The Eagles have multiple athletes who play anywhere on the field depending on what the team needs any given Friday night.
The vast position fluidity on the team is a testament to the trust all the players share with each other and the coaches.
“At Lubbock Christian, the relationships last the whole year and even after (the season),” Wideman said. “Coach Softley really helps us on the field and off the field. You work for your team and you work for the coaches. Our unity is what makes us so special.”
The group has also fostered their unity through the shared experience of college visits. Softley, a former grad assistant at Abilene Christian University, takes a college program approach for Lubbock Christian’s distant travel games.
The team leaves for the Friday night game the day before and stays at a hotel in Abilene. Once in Abilene for the night, the Eagles will spend time taking a tour and having team meetings at one of the three different colleges in the area. While they can only get to one at a time, they will take a visit to ACU, Hardin-Simmons and McMurry at different times during the 2022 season. After their stop in Abilene, the group will load back up in the charter bus and finish the drive on Friday to their final destination.
But the most important meeting for building unity is the team’s ‘Man Chapel’ held every Thursday night before the game. Softley will stand up in front of the entire team, whether it be at their home facility or a hotel conference room on their travel journeys, and answer any questions his boys have. Sure, they can ask about tomorrow’s game, but they can also inquire about deeper life and spiritual questions. Softley will even invite Lubbock Christian alumni to ‘Man Chapel’ who are currently attending the colleges in Abilene they’re staying at for the night.
No question is off limits in Lubbock Christian’s meeting of real talk, which puts the young men at ease to really ask what is on their mind.
“I could ask a question that’s about one of my struggles, and I know that everyone in that conference room would have my back on it,” Wideman said.
Lubbock Christian has one of the weirdest schedules in the state. When they accepted the fact they couldn’t control it, they decided to turn it into an opportunity to grow closer together as a team through the shared experience of college visits, hotel stays and long road trips. In the process they took what at first was a negative and turned it into a competitive advantage for their football team.
They may not have the deepest roster in Texas, but by the end of the year they may just have the deepest bond.
“Life is all about relationships, and getting to be able to do that with depth on those road trips is the best part,” Softley said.
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