Back in 2015, after Holcomb won its first-ever state football title, senior quarterback Trey Teeter figuratively handed his playbook to sophomore Trey Gilbert and wished him well.
Two years later, now a senior, Gilbert duplicated the Teeter feat as he guided the 2017 version of the Longhorns to its second title win in three years over the Thanksgiving break with a 40-20 domination of Frontenac.
Gilbert threw for four touchdowns and ran for another in his final game, surpassing Teeter’s three from two years ago.
For his efforts, just like Teeter in 2015, Gilbert was named the Telegram’s football player of the year.
At 6-2, 165 pounds, Gilbert was a threat to run or throw with big results. He completed 149-of-254 passes for 2,293 yards and 28 touchdowns, and rushed for 484 yards and six scores. He was only intercepted seven times.
For his two-year career as a starter, he completed 260 passes (461 attempts) for 4,181 yards and 52 touchdowns, with just 15 interceptions.
He ran 230 times for 971 yards and eight scores, giving him 60 touchdowns and 5,152 combined yards, or nearly three miles.
Repeating what his mentor Teeter had accomplished was part of the driving force behind Gilbert’s success, but he knew it would take some work.
“I put in a lot of hours in the weight room and went to different camps to get my routine down,” he said. “Also, just believing in myself throughout the years, knowing I had the confidence and the skill set to achieve my goals.”
Gilbert also feels fortunate to have a savvy set of coaches to push, train and guide him and his teammates during that time.
“I think we have the best coaches in southwest Kansas,” he said. “The hours they put in is unreal.”
He also credited Trey Teeter for working with him down the stretch this season.
“He and I became really close, and that helped me a lot with my confidence,” Gilbert said. “And he came up with some different game plans and different plays that really helped us.”
Watching Teeter from the backup position for two seasons, Gilbert said he was able to learn from someone who knew the game.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, I did look up to Trey for how smart he was and how much poise he played with,” Gilbert said. “I admired that, and I’m glad I could implement that to my game.”
He said his passing improved throughout the season.
“I don’t know what game it was, but towards the end of the year, I got on a little roll that kind of helped us through the playoffs,” he said. “I think that helped us to win a state championship.”
He finished the title game 12 for 20 for 264 yards with the four passing scores.
It helped to have a number of receiving weapons, Gilbert said, not only in that game but throughout the season.
Carter Blackburn, Chance Rodriguez, Andrew Morss and Peyton Leonard were all threats to break through the secondary, making the passing game hard to defend.
Rodriguez had 14 receiving touchdowns, Blackburn five, Morss four and Leonard three, his final one being an 85-yard scoring play against Frontenac. That strike was Gilbert’s longest in two seasons.
Add to that a solid backfield, a strong defense and a confident offensive line and Holcomb had all the right pieces for a championship season.
“We really put our team together towards the end of the year, when we really needed it,” Gilbert said. “Our defense was just crazy. It gave me the good amount of confidence I needed.”
If they had to punt it, he explained, he knew his defense would make the subsequent stop to get the ball back.
“Just having that faith in my defense really helped me,” he said.
The only blip on Holcomb’s season was a week two loss at Scott City. After taking a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, Holcomb gave up 23 unanswered points to account for its only blemish.
Gilbert said that loss might have been the best thing for his team.
“I’m honestly glad that we lost it,” he said. “I think if we would have won the game, we would have been happy and content with ourselves and we probably wouldn’t push ourselves.”
That could have led to complacency but instead, it led to introspection.
“Since we lost, we knew what we had to do to get better,” Gilbert said. “I think that really helped our season. So even though we lost, I think it helped.”
That loss pushed Holcomb out of the top-5 rankings and they had to prove to themselves — as well as the pollsters — that they deserved attention each subsequent week.
“Our players really listened to our coaches and bought into what they were saying,” Gilbert said. “That carried on throughout the season.”
The football title is the fifth in three sports for Holcomb’s boys the past four years, with the Longhorns also winning two state basketball titles (2015, 2017) and a state baseball crown (2017).
“Growing up, I would have never thought we’d win five state championships in four years. I think the (school) grades we grew up in, we just pushed each other,” Gilbert explained. “We’re really competitive, and we put in the extra time.”
Having been in one football title game paved the way to Holcomb’s approach to this latest, he added.
It’s also a legacy he hopes his senior class has left for future generations of Longhorn athletes.
He offered this advice to upcoming players:
“I hope they really pay attention to what we do. That really benefited this senior class, that we admired the seniors and juniors (of 2015) and what they did. It really paid off for us, so I hope the younger kids from all ages in Holcomb they follow us and keep an eye on the high school so they learn from them.”