Things got off to a tough start when Head Coach Shannon Jolley arrived at Eldon in 2008.
The Mustangs finished their season 0-10 that year and would win just one game over the next three years amassing a record of 1-29. But the gloom of losing seasons faded away and the tide quickly turned.
In 2011, Eldon finished the season 6-5. The next year, they improved to 8-5 and captured a district title and did so again in 2013 with a record of 9-4 and a trip to the state quarterfinals in both seasons. Since then, Eldon has only had one losing season putting together a total record of 17-16.
The biggest difference? Jolley described it with a single word and that word was commitment.
“It is really just about commitment. It is about finding the right set of kids that are going to commit to something and finish it,” the coach said looking back on those back-to-back district championship seasons. “I think that is the biggest challenge we have in our society today is that people are not willing to finish things. I’m just real proud of those kids that continued to stay out. Not necessarily for me or our coaching staff, but for them because it is something that nobody will ever be able to take away from them.”
That commitment is something that extended to the fan base as well. As the kids who went through those grueling winless seasons on the gridiron came back and earned some redemption, Jolley also noticed those who stuck by the team from the bleachers every step of the way.
“We were kind of finding out who were supporters of our team and our kids. Not just on the outside in the community, but our school,” Jolley remarked. “That was probably the most significant thing to me is to look at that and see the people that were there when we were 1-29 and really just celebrate with them after our first district championship.
“Now, to be in a situation where we’ve been fortunate to have winning seasons, it is just fun for me to look at those people that have been really loyal and have always supported our kids, and celebrate with them because I think it is pretty special,” he added.
However, there is a bigger mission at work more than how many wins each team can rack up in any given year. According to Jolley, the biggest goal of all is making sure that kids leave the program knowing how to be a successful adult and make a positive impact on society.
“I think an intelligent coach said one time, ‘If you want to tell me how good of a team this group was, ask me in 10 years.’ Any time kids come out in the conditions, in the heat and all the things people shy away from now, it just makes me respect them more,” Jolley stated. “You understand that there is something inside them that is a little bit different and that is the fun part about it, being part of that.
“Those kids are the ones we think are going to move on after they graduate and do some pretty special things. When things are not going well, after they get out of high school or when they get in adulthood, I think they are going to have some tools available to them maybe some other kids would not have.”
For Jolley and his staff, the mission goes on.