Cayuga was in a much different place. The Wildcats entered the season having never won a gridiron playoff game in the history of the school.
It was the 2007 season that began bringing the community together on Friday nights. That 8-4 season included the school's first-ever playoff victory before a loss to Maud in the second round.
That season was also a coming out party for running back Traylon Shead, who rushed for 2,810 yards and 33 touchdowns on 247 carries.
Following the football season, the Cayuga basketball team continued the success, making a playoff run before bowing out in the regional semifinals.
Entering the 2008 season, Cayuga football fans were more than ready to build on 2007's success. With a bevy of returning starters and a junior class filled with a number of players that will play D-I, D-II, and NAIA after high school, Cayuga began the season ranked #7 in the state, but were not favored to win a region that included Maud and Alto.
For the players and town, it was a 35-24 victory over Alto that had everyone believing that something special could happen. The Wildcats handed the Yellow Jackets their first-ever district loss as a 1A program behind a sensational 36-carry, 360-yard, and five-touchdown performance by Shead.
Cayuga followed the big win with an upset loss to Grapeland, but the game refocused a team that had cleared a mental hurdle the week prior.
At the beginning of the football playoffs, Cayuga became a tiny town in which the last one to leave turned out the lights. Each and every person headed to the stadium to watch their beloved Wildcats.
At 8-2, the Wildcats were still just a team that many thought might win a couple of playoff games. Maud was still the prohibitive favorite to not only take region II, but also the state crown.
Cayuga began the playoffs with a hard fought win over Tenaha in which Shead carried the ball 51 times for 262 yards.
The Wildcats followed with wins over Simms Bowie (33-19) and Bremond (35-32), setting up a showdown with a Maud team that had three players sign with TCU in February.
Cayuga prevailed 27-18 and followed with a blowout win over Ganado to earn a place in the state title game.
The season ended with a heartbreaking 24-13 loss to Stratford in the title game, but a community had been brought together in a way like never before.
CAPTURING A COMMUNITY
The run over the last two seasons on the football field and basketball court has captured the hearts and minds of the tiny community in Anderson County. It all began two years ago, when Cayuga not only made the 1A playoffs in football, but also won their first-ever playoff game.
It was at that point that the fans, who now fill their side of the pint-sized stands and pack basketball gyms, began to believe this group of players could bring something special to a town not accustomed to success.
"It's great. The whole community is buzzing over, not necessarily just football, but athletics as a whole right now," said head football coach Tommy Allison. "The thing that was special about football is that for so many years they have been the doormat. Being able to win a first-ever playoff game two years ago and get to the state finals this year, people were getting on the football bandwagon. It's been pretty special so far."
School principal and father of Traylon and Tramon, Bill Shead grew up in Cayuga. He graduated from high school and came back to devote his life in education to giving back to his hometown, and has been amazed at what has happened with the recent run of success.
"It's been amazing. What we've seen is a county come together. I've had a few individuals that have called and said after the loss in the finals (football) to tell those guys to keep their heads up because they have brought a community together," Shead said. "It's carried over to basketball. We show up at a basketball game and the gym is packed. It's people that graduated back in the 1950s and 60s and they are supporting us. I don't even have time to read all of the emails I receive. It's brought the community together and made our school better too. Kids want to be here."
Along with the success of the teams, the recent commitment to Texas by Traylon Shead has brought a sense of pride to the town, as well as excitement for their star player.
"We have tried to keep the focus on basketball during the playoff run, so we haven't talked a lot about it, but everyone is real excited for Traylon. To have an opportunity to play at one of the nation's elite programs is exciting for Traylon and the community," Coach Allison said.
A BASKETBALL FAMILY
While Traylon Shead has become one of the top football prospects in the state, it wasn't a given growing up that Traylon or his twin brother, Tramon, would play the game of football.
Their father, Bill, played college basketball at Sul Ross and their mother, Lolita, played college basketball at Panola Junior College and Lamar University.
The Shead family owns a home in the LaPoyner ISD in Larue near Brownsboro, which doesn't play football. Traylon and Tramon attended school in LaPoyner, watching their older sisters achieve great things on the basketball court. They won the 1A D-I state title in 2002-03 with a 32-7 record, and advanced to the 1A D-1 finals in 2001-02 before losing to Brock.
The sisters, Sha and Courtney, went on to play college basketball at UT-Tyler and Northwestern State. Courtney is currently a red-shirt junior for the Demons.
It wasn't until the fifth grade that the twin brothers convinced their dad that they wanted to play football. For that to happen, they had to make the move to Cayuga, where Bill Shead has been in administration for 14 years and coached for more than a decade.
"It was about the fifth grade they kept telling me they wanted to play football. They weren't here at Cayuga at that time. We live in LaPoyner ISD. When both of their sisters graduated from LaPoyner, I brought them down in the sixth grade. I told them if they wanted to play football, they had to come to Cayuga. They've been here ever since. They love to play basketball and we've always been a basketball family, but they took to football," Shead said.
While Traylon and Tramon loved the game of football, it wasn't until Traylon's sophomore season that Bill began to understand the type of talent his son possessed. Continuing to improve was the focus.
"Just listening to the coaches as he played and came up to high school, it was his first year in high school that I said, okay, he's a little different. His sophomore year, okay, he's getting better. My thing with them is getting better and continuing to improve. I'm not going to give him too much credit now. I tell him that because I know what the college level is like and you don't want to tell him he's really good. My thing is you want him to continue to work hard," Shead said.
A TIGHT FAMILY
The Shead family has always spent countless hours together. While both parents have remained busy with their careers in education (Lolita is currently in Palestine ISD), spending time with the children was always a focus of their father.
The yes sir, no sir young man Traylon has developed into began as a youngster spending time with his dad. Bill believes that the time spent with your children is they key in their development as people.
"I never had any trouble with Traylon. We spent a lot of time together. To raise a kid, you have to spend time with them. I kept them as active as I could. If we weren't playing little dribblers or working on the farm loading hay, we were doing something. We rode four wheelers and go carts, but I spent valuable time with them," Shead said. "My dad raised me spending a lot of time together doing various things. We've never had trouble with them as far as discipline and being rude. I've got a big family and so my family has pitched in as well to help. We have a tight family. It's instilled that you need to be respectful to people. When you do that young then respect comes out later on."
With Traylon committing to Texas, that means the twins will separate after they graduate from high school for the first time in their lives. Their father says raising their children as individuals has helped prepare them for being apart.
"From the start, we had two girls that were two years apart. Sha, 23, was the more athletically gifted. Courtney was bigger-boned, with bigger muscles and ended up being 6-3. They were two different individuals. Tramon is 6-4 and Traylon is 6-2. They are two different individuals, so we have to tell them that we can't put them on the same level. Traylon is a running back and Tramond an offensive lineman. We focused on Traylon first because he was a hot and heavy commodity and we have that out of the way now. We know that we have to get 25 pounds on Tramon and that is a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," Shead said with a laugh. "They have known for a while that they may have to go their own way and they are prepared for that."
CHASING A LONG-STANDING RECORD
Traylon Shead will enter his senior season needing 3,639 yards to become the nation's all-time leading rusher at the high school level. The record, which has stood since 1953, is held by a Texas high school legend, Kenneth Hall.
Whether or not Shead churns out the yardage needed to break the record, he will likely end his high school career as one of the top three or four leading rushers in high school history, and will perhaps be #2 in Texas all-time by the time district play begins.
Right now the main focus for the Cayuga football program is getting back to the state title game and hoisting the championship trophy. Anything else that follows will be icing on the cake for Bill Shead.
"I think other people keep up with that sort of stuff," he said. "We're not concerned with that. Our concern is to win. It's about team and we would love to win that state championship. I think that the state championship would be great and if you happen to break the rushing record, that's great too. We aren't going to try and break the record and sacrifice a chance at the state title."
The proud father of four successful children doubts his son knows about the record.
"Traylon is about team," Bill said. "He always has been. He's never been one to look at what's happening with him individually. It's like I tell him, if the line doesn't block anybody, you aren't going to get those yards. You have to give credit where credit is due. You may get the headlines, but those sweat hogs have to get work done. If he doesn't get that record, it won't bother me."
Head coach Tommy Allison knew his star player was in the hunt to go down as a Texas schoolboy legend, but didn't have any idea where he stood in the record books entering his senior season.
"It's unbelievable that Traylon has a chance at so many records. He's such a good kid. Because he's not a kid that wants the hype or needs the hype, we had no idea where he stood until today. It's pretty neat really," Allison said.
THE TEXAS DECISION
When the Shead family loaded up the car to drive to Austin on February 28, there wasn't any intention to commit to the University of Texas. While the Longhorns were considered the favorite to land Shead as soon as they officially offered, the family made the trip with the thought of taking in everything the university and football program had to offer.
It wasn't until Bill and Lolita Shead felt comfortable with the thought of leaving their son in Texas's hands did they feel comfortable with Traylon committing to Texas.
"We went down with the thought that we were going to visit and see what Texas had to offer in all aspects. My thing was I wanted to see how we fit in and how Traylon fit in. I wanted him to be comfortable and be a part of something great because Texas has a great program. We wanted to be comfortable that when we leave him there, he'll be taken care of, but we left the decision up to him," Shead said.
The goal of Traylon's parents is for their son to grow as a person as much as a player.
"We want him to develop not only as a player, but as an individual too. That is what we stress to him is to be able to humble, modest and we don't want him to get beyond that. We want him to be able to filter the things that will come at him and stay humble and do what needs to be done. So, we went there to see how and what Texas was about and we gathered that quickly. It's about family and we enjoyed that. Traylon enjoyed that too and I think that is what sold him on Texas," Shead said.