The Paris Wildcats endured a season full of adversity in 2020, but the ’Cats overcame just about every bit of it while rewriting the football program’s history books. Head coach Steven Hohenberger has preached the importance of getting things started up front for years and, even though his offensive and defensive lines were not the beefiest bunches, not many units worked harder than those in navy and silver.
Defying the odds and reaping the rewards
Wildcats senior two-way lineman Chandler Sikes was living proof of that point as he helped anchor things for Paris in the trenches with tenacity and consistency. Although doubters and COVID-19 concerns lurked throughout the year, Chandler and his team took extra pride in their accomplishments in proving the naysayers wrong and getting the last laugh against the infamous virus.
“In a season where no one really counted us as a contender, we were able to make a big splash,” Chandler said. “We were able to beat Midlothian (Heritage) by double digits twice (ranked top-10 both times), we beat Melissa when we had to forfeit before, and it was all just crazy. It was a big season for us.”
Even though Paris faced plenty of opposition, it did not stop Chandler and company from playing with a big chip on their shoulders. Every game seemed personal and, even though a few kinks needed to be fine-tuned along the way, Chandler was pleased with how he and his teammates continued to push forward and progress throughout the year.
“It’s rewarding because people could see us progressively getting better throughout the season,” Chandler said. “It wasn’t good on offense earlier in the season but, as the season went on, we were able to get things together and make a push through the year.”
Making the most with the hand they were dealt
Due to restrictions surrounding the pandemic, the 2020 football season looked vastly different than one could have imagined before March rolled around. However, Chandler took advantage of the compact, efficient, and effective practices and weight-room sessions during the course of the season. The fruits of their labor were evident as each week came and left.
“Our practices aren’t always super long, but we make sure the intensity is high the whole practice. We aren’t taking breaks and we aren’t taking plays off — we’re just practicing hard,” Chandler said. “In the weight room after games and throughout the week, the schedule varies depending on our schedule, but the work we put in there keeps our bodies in strength and helps us maintain our speed and explosiveness throughout the season.”
Alternative fuel methods: Paris stayed hungry through and through
From Silver Crush, to #OTE, to a simple ‘Go ’Cats!’, the Paris Wildcats have embraced several different chants and slogans year in and year out. This year, Chandler and the squad knew they must get after it every play, every practice, and every rep. With that, a new rallying cry was born, which fueled the fire in Chandler and the rest of the team.
“Our coaches have a saying, ‘Gotta,’” Chandler said. “With that phrase, we just talk about getting after our opponents, going hard, and taking no plays off. It’s just a different mentality from other schools around here.”
A 180-degree-turnaround on the gridiron and in the locker room
Before he entered the varsity ranks, Chandler’s football career had humble beginnings. In his final season, Chandler was an undersized, yet highly impactful two-way lineman. Before that, however, Chandler barely sniffed the turf during junior high to his own admission. Realizing where he came from and who helped him along the way, Chandler knew it was his time to pour into the younger players to pay back what was given to him.
“As a senior, I’ve had to take on more of a leadership role, but in years’ past, I’ve been able to look up to older guys and lean on them to be those leaders,” Chandler said. “This year, though, I’ve had to step up and be a leader for the team and even a role model as well.”
Not every single play is a play to remember for athletes across the board. During some of his first-ever varsity action earlier in his high school career against the Sanger Indians, Chandler recalls a blown assignment that he was not necessarily proud of.
“I was lined up one play in a five, and I was supposed to have outside and the quarterback if he takes it and runs backdoor, but I crashed in on the running back on that read-option play,” Chandler said. “It was against Sanger and they got, like, a 50-yard play on it.”
When stressful times or events enter our lives, people tend to go to their happy place or seek counsel. For Chandler, he seeks guidance from the man who helped bring him into this world, but the admission did not come without a bit of friendly fire.
“The person I go to during times of stress is my dad,” Chandler said. “Man, I don’t want to hype my dad up, but he does give really good advice and is good at listening, too.”
Wildcats season highlight comes by caging the Cardinals in a highly-anticipated matchup
Paris finished with an overall record of 9-5, 3-3, including two contests Paris was forced to forfeit (Anna and Melissa) due to COVID-19 issues. Regardless, the Wildcats marched through the postseason and saw a familiar foe in the Regional Semifinals. The Melissa Cardinals talked plenty of trash (4:00 mark, 4:55-5:10 mark) and were openly inviting the contest against Paris thinking they had the upper hand. However, Chandler and the ’Cats took exception to that and swapped out the Cardinals’ rations of birdseed with their own words to eat instead as the Wildcats handed Melissa a humbling 54-49 defeat.
“After Melissa beat Kennedale (in the Area Round), they talked about wanting to play us in the next round,” Chandler said. “They said, ‘If you want some, then come get some,’ and they lost.”
An impressive season in review
The Paris Wildcats reached the Regional Final, where it competed against and ultimately fell 41-13 to the No.1-ranked Argyle Eagles. It was Paris’ first trip to the fourth round of the postseason since 1988, when legendary coach Allen Wilson led the Silver Crush to the 1988 State Championship over then two-time defending champion West Orange-Stark by a final score of 31-13. Paris’ defense allowed fewer than 19 points and rushed for more than 321 yards per game. For more sports coverage, click here. For more local news, click here.