By Travis Sloat
Coach James Singleton had a very simple philosophy that he believes has helped turn the Fort Gibson football team around.
“My job isn’t to win games,” he said. “My job is to build champions, on and off the field. If I build enough champions, the wins column will take care of itself.”
Singleton, his staff and his players and their parents, were all present on Sunday afternoon in the Fort Gibson High School cafeteria for the annual awards banquet, all celebrating a fantastic season, capped off by a run in the playoffs.
The banquet opened with a 45-minute video that included highlights from the season, which ended in a 10-2 record. Players and their families laughed, cheered, and even groaned as they relived the moments on the projector screen.
Andrew Brestel, one of only six seniors on the team, said he’s been playing football for seven years, and he thought the last two were the best.
“When Coach Singleton took over, it was a big change,” Brestel said. “He really switched up some of our methods. I know he didn’t expect us to win a state championship, but he wanted us to get better.”
Singleton freely admits that Brestel was one of his “challenges” when he got to Fort Gibson.
“He’s a great story,” Singleton said. “He’s one of those kids who we knew had incredible potential, but he just didn’t have the drive. When you have a kid who is talented physically and academically, you have to find a way to motivate him. We had a couple of great talks, and he finally decided he wanted to be successful, and this year he absolutely dominated both sides of the football.”
Brestel won several awards on Sunday, including Defensive Player of the Year, Verdigris Valley Conference Player of the Year, and the Verdigris Valley Principal’s Scholarship. In addition, he also maintained a 3.5 GPA throughout the school year, something the majority of the team did as well.
The awards list was long, but the “Flying Tiger Award” (Fort Gibson’s take on Most Valuable Player), was presented to Jake Gandara, who among other things stepped up to play quarterback when J.R. Singleton became injured during the course of the season.
Coach Singleton said the majority of the success this season has come from many things, including the kids buying into his program, the community support and the fact that his staff has been there two years now.
“We gave ourselves three years to turn this program around,” Singleton said on Sunday. “And we’ve made it to the playoffs in year two. The momentum and pride taken in the program has been unbelievable. The last two years, people have come out in droves and supported us, and that’s a phenomenal feeling.”
Brestel, who has offers from several NCAA Division II schools, said he might forgo all of that and try to walk on at Tulsa University or the University of Arkansas.
“This season, and the last, have been real fun,” Brestel said. “We’ve gotten really close, and having a great season has facilitated that. The coaches are always there for us, and honestly they’ve become father figures for me. I’m going to miss this team.”
• Fly'n Tiger Award — Jake Gandara.
• Principal's Scholarship Award — Andrew Brestel.
• Defensive Player of the Year — Andrew Brestel.
• Offensive Player of the Year — JR Singleton.
• Special Teams Player of the Year — Daniel Milnik.
• Offensive Lineman of the Year — Jake Farmer.
• Defensive Lineman of the Year — Stoney Tipton.
• Iron Man True Award — Jordan London.
• "Blue Collar" Award — Avery Rigney.
• "Unbreakable" Award — Sheldon Smith.
• Impact Offensive Player — Ned Adair.
• Impact Defensive Player — Brian Cerveny.
• Most Improved Offensive Player — Zach Peterson.
• Most Improved Defensive Player — Zach Drain.
• Most Improved Special Teams Player — Kyle Martin.
• Offensive Hitman of the Year — Jake Farmer.
• Defensive Hitman of the Year — Jon Terronez.
• Special Team Hitman of the Year — Hayden Perry.
• Offensive Newcomer of the Year — Seth Taylor.
• Defensive Newcomer of the Year — Grady Mosteller.
• "Comeback" Player of the Year — Tristian Leonard.
• Offensive Work Team Player of the Year — McKenna Terrell.
• Defensive Work Team Player of the Year — Logan Wood.