Willie Hall has been head football coach at Brackenridge High School for so long that he's become synonymous with the inner-city high school at the corner of Eagleland and South St. Mary's streets, just a few blocks from downtown.
Hall was only 27 when he joined the Brack coaching staff in 1983, four years after the Eagles won the city championship and advanced to the state quarterfinals. Brackenridge was named Wheatley in 1979, but the San Antonio Independent School District restored its original name in 1988.
Now in his 30th season at Brack and 18th as its head coach, Hall has guided the Eagles through a period of change since he succeeded Diz Reeves.
"I've been coaching for so long that I was around when we were still watching game films with a 16-millimeter projector," said Hall, 56. "Now we've got all this technology with computers and the Internet."
Brack dropped from 5A to 4A in the late 1990s, just a few years after it upset Holmes 24-21 in the first round of the playoffs. The Eagles also have seen the landscape of Texas high school change considerably in the past two decades, with the expanded playoff system topping the list.
But while things have changed for Brack, Hall's passion to work with inner-city kids has been a constant the Eagles have rallied around.
"I just love Brackenridge High School and I love our kids," Hall said Wednesday. "It's a great place to be. There's no other place for me right now. This is the place I want to be."
Eagles have won four district titles in past five years
Brack (2-0) faces Victoria East (0-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Victoria. The Titans beat the Eagles 62-26 in the 4A Division I bidistrict playoffs two years ago.
"That will be a good barometer for us," Hall said. "We want to measure ourselves. The guys on our team have got a lot of intensity. They're excited about playing. There's an energy about these guys. They want to go hard all the time. They're doing a great job.”
Brack plays at Del Rio next week before opening District 28-4A play against Jefferson on Sept. 28 at Alamo Stadium.
The Eagles have won district titles four of the past five seasons, but Brennan is the odds-on favorite in 28-4A this year.
"That's nothing but incentive for us," Hall said. "That's a great motivational deal for us. We're excited about that, as we are about any other ballgame. But we've got that one marked on our schedule."
Brack has gone 96-86 under Hall, but is 1-8 in the playoffs during his tenure. The Eagles have lost six consecutive first-round games by a combined 273-75 since that big victory against Holmes 15 years ago.
The win over the Huskies was the Eagles' first in the playoffs since the 1979 season, and the first postseason triumph for an SAISD team since 1990.
Hall: 'This group has great potential'
This season, Brack returned 20 lettermen and five starters each way from a team that went 9-2 and lost to Gregory-Portland 53-15 in the 4A Division I playoffs.
"They are definitely motivated," Hall said. "This group has great potential, but we've got a few more games to see if we're going to maximize what we've got going. But we're off to a good start and I'm excited about it. I know our players are, too."
The Eagles opened the season with a 33-6 victory against Sam Houston and beat Floresville 41-14 last week.
Junior quarterback Ramon Richards and senior free safety James Harris have been outstanding for the Eagles.
An all-district wide receiver last season, Richards had a breakout game in the win over Floresville. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 178 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 128 yards and four TDs – on only five carries.
"To score four times from the quarterback spot, in just five carries, that's pretty special," Hall said. "Ramon is a brilliant young man in the classroom and on the field. He's very heady, a smart football player and a good leader. He has great athleticism and the ability to think and make critical decisions on the field. You can't ask much more of your quarterback."
Richards scored on runs of 63, 4, 26 and 15 yards and threw an 11-yard TD pass to Kenneth May against Floresville.
Last year's playoff loss to G-P motivates Eagles
Richards said the Eagles' goals are to improve each week, win district and snap their playoff losing streak.
"I wouldn't say we were intimidated last year when we lost to Gregory-Portland, but I don't think we were as mentally strong as we are this year," Richards said. "I think we can still win district and win in the first round. We have a lot of learning to do, but I feel confident with this team."
Harris, who started at running back last year, scored on a 99-yard fumble return and had two interceptions in the season-opening win over Sam Houston.
"James has got a great knack of sniffing the ball out," Hall said. "He's got good speed and good instincts. He'll make it happen. If he's near the ball, it's probably going to be his. He's made some outstanding plays."
Harris said the memory of last year's first-round loss drives him at practice every day.
"We came out fast last season, but we didn't finish like we started," Harris said. "We came in with an attitude this year. We want to win in the playoffs and change things around. We know we're an underdog, but it motivates us to work harder."
This season marks the 50th anniversary of Brack's march to the 4A state championship in
1962, when the Eagles were led by such notable players as Warren McVea, Victor Castillo and Pete Bautista. Brack started out 4-3 before finishing the season with an eight-game winning streak
"That's one thing that we do every season when we're rolling pretty good, and we're looking toward the playoffs," Hall said. "That's always one of those conversations that takes place, so our players are aware of it.
"We just got through talking about it a few minutes ago. We've got a great opportunity to do something that hasn't been done around here in a few years. We're always looking to get past that first round and then we'll go from there."