Referred to as the T.A.C, it’s not exactly aesthetically eye-catching, with its tinged-brown brick exterior and dimly lit, echo-heavy interior that’s spruced-up some with blue-painted walls but still oozes history from its early days as an armory.
For many months out of the year, though, the Temple Athletic Center is a hub for Wildcats football players and coaches, who fill the dozen or so rooms with talk of scheme and schoolwork, competitive ping-pong matches and a good, solid nap or two, thus turning the bunker-like space into what senior defensive back Naeten Mitchell described as a second home.
“When we get out of class, we come right over here. It’s just good family time. We play games. We watch TV, movies, play video games,” Mitchell said. “It’s community.”
Community, culture, camaraderie, chemistry, whichever way it’s defined, the T.A.C in some ways serves as the epicenter of what goes into the elements that bind the Wildcats.
As head coach Scott Stewart often says, the sum is greater than the parts. As far as Temple is concerned, its parts range from wit to grit, talent to tenacity, dedication to determination. Added together, the sum this season is yet another playoff berth.
“We talk process all the time. I think team chemistry — the locker room, giving them ownership — is a critical piece of it,” Stewart said.
“I think it’s all paramount in trying to maintain success.”
One meeting room is filled by the Trench Mob, also known as the offensive linemen. Another might have the Jack Boys, or Ball Hawks — the defensive backs for those needing the official position. The Guerrilla Gang, or the defensive linemen, have their spot, too, as do the linebackers and strong safeties — The Mob.
“Our group names bring us together in more ways than one,” senior linebacker Taurean York said. “With us being The Mob, we have to set the tone from day one. We have to be the guys that everyone looks to when the going gets tough. We run together as a group, and we have each other’s back through thick and thin.”
Along similar lines, Mitchell said the monikers are connections between players that keep all involved tight-knit and engaged, a sentiment to which senior defensive end Kevin Stockton also agreed.
“We take that name and have pride with it and take it out there on the field,” Stockton added. “It brings us together as a group.”
Foundational stability, built through players adhering to expectations set by themselves and their coaches and holding one another accountable through that progression, is one of the priorities for Stewart and his staff, which aims to keep the football part of what they do a catalyst for life after the sport.
“(The nicknames) are an identity that they’ve created within themselves and I encourage the heck out of that because that’s taking ownership, an emotional investment,” said Stewart, who will lead the Wildcats (7-3) into a Class 6A Division I bi-district appointment against Waxahachie (8-2) at 7:30 tonight in Wildcat Stadium.
It is Temple’s 10th consecutive playoff appearance overall and seventh with Stewart at the helm.
Along with the playoffs being a familiar stage, also nothing new for the Wildcats is their relative cohesiveness, formed through those clever nicknames, team dinners, the leadership council and the occasional rousing Madden showdown, and further solidified by an overarching understanding that hard work — including attitude and effort, Stewart’s two fundamental requests — is the ultimate tie.
“Basically, you want to play hard for your guys every day. You’ve been working with them since dang near March, April, and now we’re getting to November and December,” Wildcats senior running back Deshaun Brundage said. “You’ve been working hard together all year, so you just want to put everything out on the line for your brothers.”
In doing that, Temple players can earn helmet stickers by attaining team goals offensively, defensively and on special teams each game. The only sticker earned individually is for good grades.
Each week, a player is named the special teams MVP and for it gets to carry a blue sledgehammer — another symbol around which to rally — through the team’s inflatable tunnel pregame.
“I feel like it sets the standard,” Stockton said. “Be the hammer, not the nail.”
That’s the ultimate goal for Temple tonight against the Indians, with the winner getting a swing at Rockwall (9-1) or Garland Sachse (4-6) next week in the area round at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
Perhaps one more game for the Guerilla Gang, Jack Boys, Trench Mob and The Mob, and another week in the T.A.C.