MIDWEST CITY — You can point to a lot of reasons for Carl Albert's incredible turnaround from 1-5 to state finalist.
The emergence of quarterback Steven Thompson as one of the state's top football players.
The increasingly dominant play of the offensive and defensive lines.
The shoring up of a once-porous secondary.
But one of the biggest — quite possibly the biggest — motivators in the Titans' revival had nothing to do with the game played between the white lines.
Defensive coordinator Mike Corley is cancer-free.
His fight, which essentially coincided with the football season, was an awakening sight for the Carl Albert players. As he battled, and ultimately defeated cancer, the inspiration flooded over the team.
No one was left untouched by the announcement earlier this month, just a few days before Carl Albert began the Class 5A playoffs, that Corley's cancer was gone.
“That's been the biggest victory of the season,” senior lineman Kyler Walker said. “Whether we would have made the playoffs or not, it would have been a blessing to have him cancer-free.
“To see how much he fights — he makes the effort to come to practice, and it makes us feel like we can do whatever we want. If he can go in and have treatment, then come back to practice for three hours a day to yell at us, we can accomplish anything we want.”
A tumor was found on Corley's neck last spring, but he continued to coach through the season, as much as his health would allow.
“Right in front of their eyes, they watched a guy go through chemotherapy and radiation,” head coach Gary Rose said. “They watched him get thin and gaunt and be weak, and still come to practice every day.
“Mike got to live out what we teach — toughness, perseverance, fight the fight, battle. What we want to teach in football is more than just wins, and Mike Corley has lived that out in front of this team, and that's a major part of why this team is where it is right now.”
The Titans will face Tulsa East Central for the Class 5A state championship at 7:30 Saturday night at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater. That night, Corley and the Titans will be more focused on strategy and schemes to contain Stanvon Taylor and the rest of the Cardinals' dangerous playmakers.
But Corley's inspiring victory over cancer won't be totally forgotten.
“It keeps us going, watching him fighting for us out here, trying to coach us up,” Thompson said. “It's just amazing to see him out here with everything he's had to go through. We're playing for him.”