By Zach West
In the midst of one of the best seasons in school history, Henryetta players needed little motivation going into a second-round playoff game against Verdigris on Friday night.
They got some anyways, as school legend and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman surprised the team by giving the pre-game speech in the locker room. It was the first Henryetta game Aikman had seen in over 20 years, head coach Kenny Speer said.
“Everyone was surprised, shocked, and excited,” said Colby Blondell, a senior running back who, thanks to family ties with Aikman, was one of the few who knew the former Dallas Cowboy was coming. “He just talked about how he used to be a Hen … and encouraged us to have fun and play hard. A lot of (the players) wanted to play harder and better, to impress him.”
Aikman, who graduated from Henryetta in 1984, has worked as a color analyst for Fox Sports since his retirement from the Cowboys in 2001. Friday night, the three-time Super Bowl winner flew in before the game and flew back out immediately after, Speer said. But while he only was there a short time, his speech definitely impacted the team, who went on to defeat Verdigris 35-0.
“That’s a heck of a deal for the kids for him to come back and show the interest he shows in his old team,” Speer said. “He enjoys football, and he’s proud of what Henryetta has done.”
What Henryetta has done hasn’t been seen in a long time. By winning 2A-5, the team picked up its first district title since 1951. And Henryetta hadn’t finished 10-0 in a regular season since 1942. With the win over Verdigris, Henryetta secured a return trip to the Class 2A quarterfinals, where they will face No. 2 Heritage Hall.
This week, the players plan on writing a thank-you letter to Aikman, in which they will also hint they would like him to return for another playoff game.
“It means a lot to me just to see him coming,” Blondell said. “I’ve been a big Dallas Cowboys fan since I was a kid, and it just means a ton.”