John Paul II head football coach George Teague and the Cardinals qualified for the TAPPS Division I state championship game this season.

HEWITT — As he began to address his players in the aftermath of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Division I state championship game, John Paul II head football coach George Teague had to pause for a brief moment to collect his thoughts and wipe his eyes.

The past few weeks had been nothing short of euphoric for Teague and the Cardinals, who authored a history-making playoff run that shattered all manner of program milestones on the gridiron. 

Knowing that it had come to an end without the team’s ultimate goal of a state title, wrested from John Paul by mighty Parish Episcopal in a 42-14 decision on Friday, made that postgame address a bittersweet one in some ways.

Although perspective is tough to maintain any time a team’s season ends without a championship trophy in hand, Teague was sure to remind his players of all that had been accomplished during the Cardinals’ hallmark year —  one that saw a program just two seasons removed from snapping a 33-game losing streak build itself into a title contender.

All the more encouraging for John Paul is that its run may only be getting started.

“On paper, we’re still a very young team. We have 10 seniors, I believe, and we’re still really young,” Teague said. “The bulk of our starters and returners will be seniors next year, so now that they’ve been here, witnessed it and tasted this, I know they’ll have that hunger next year.”

The Cardinals won’t be lacking in experience as they gear up for the 2020 season, with all manner of key pieces from their recent playoff run projected to return. Offensively, that includes John Paul’s leading passer (junior Grayson James), leading rusher (junior Grant Robinson) and its two leading receivers (juniors Jerand Bradley and Myles Parker), as well as the majority of its offensive line.

Defensively, four of the Cardinals’ top five tacklers (juniors Brandon Tucker, Kyle Taylor,  Max Mazur and sophomore Cameron Robertson — all of whom doubled as the team’s four sack leaders) should remain intact along with a secondary chalked in youth between freshman Braxton Myers, sophomore Terrance Brooks and junior Trey Spann.

Key losses include senior tight end Donavon Johnson, a three-star prospect with double-digit college offers, as well as senior running back Carson Collins and a slew of impact seniors on defense, including Dylan Harris, Kevin Harris, Cole Record and Cam Peters — all part of a class that helped spark John Paul’s turnaround.

“There were a lot of guys who didn’t stay with the program when we first got here, just not knowing where it was going to go or what we would do,” Teague said. “We had some seniors who stuck it out and helped us build this. They changed the culture.”

The onus now falls on John Paul’s loaded 2020 class to maintain that momentum heading into the offseason. The Cardinals are primed to build on their 10-4 run from 2019, but doing so could prove easier said than done given the wealth of talent that resides in the Metroplex.

Friday’s state final marked the 12th consecutive year that a Dallas-Fort Worth football team has captured the TAPPS Div. I state title, with Parish becoming the fifth different school to do so over that span. Furthermore, 10 of the past 12 TAPPS Div. I title games have featured head-to-head matchups between programs from the Metroplex.

Perennial powerhouses like Prestonwood Christian, Bishop Lynch, Bishop Dunne and Fort Worth Nolan all figure to have a say in matters, while Parish could also be primed for a big run with quarterback Preston Stone and all-purpose back Christian Benson due back.

Where John Paul fits in that equation won’t be determined for quite some time, but the Cardinals at last belong in that conversation.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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