SPECIAL REPORT: What is a Buckeye?

The Legacy of Gilmer Football

Gilmer, Texas (KETK) - A buckeye is a North American tree or shrub, related to the horse chestnut, with showy yellow, red or white flowers. 
 
While considered lucky, a buckeye is highly toxic if ingested.
 
But, in a small East Texas town, a buckeye is so much more.
 
Gilmer football has been the model for not only East Texas high school football, but for programs across the state.
 
When the "Friday Night Lights" turn on, the entire town shuts down and heads to North Bradford Street to see who the Gilmer Buckeyes will take on next.
 
"The community gets behind the team, we get really excited about it," says Brent Swanner, owner of Swanner's Hamburgers.
 
"If you drive into Upshur County on a Friday night during a home game here, you will be hard-pressed to find a car on the road, because they're all down at Jeff Traylor Stadium," declares Jarom Tefteller, Gilmer City Council member and lawyer at Tefteller Law.
 
"Until somebody comes to Gilmer, you'll never understand how important Buckeye football is to this community," claims Gilmer ISD school board member and lawyer at Tefteller Law, Todd Tefteller.
 
Gilmer is one of the the winningest high school football programs in the Lone Star State.
 
And the accolades the Buckeyes have acquired over the years is something they are now accustomed to.
 
"It's become a tradition," says Gilmer assistant coach Brandon Williams. "Going undefeated in district and winning the district championship and going four or five deep in the playoffs, it's just what's expected. It's a norm."
 
"It's very special. It's something that you take pride in," says Russell Cunningham, Gilmer assistant coach.
 
A lot of factors go into having the kind of success #BuckeyeNation has come to know.
 
"You've got great kids that want to be great, and that are committed to that and are willing to work hard to do that," says Gilmer head coach Matt Turner.
 
"All successful programs have standards and values they believe in," declares Olan Johnson, Gilmer assistant football coach.
 
But, there are elements that are required while training to be the best.
 
"Perfect effort, we feel like everybody can give that," says Coach Matt Turner. "Selflessness, you know, you have to be a person that thinks outside yourself. And, if you don't do it right, do it again."
 
And the grind doesn't stop when the season's over.
 
"Everything's based on our offseason," claims offensive line coach Kurt Traylor. "I mean, we push our kids. We really do."
 
Not only are they training to compete against other top Texas teams, they're competing against themselves, starting in elementary school.
 
"From an early age, all of these kids grow up with the same program," says Gilmer ISD school board member, former Gilmer football player and lawyer at Tefteller Law, Clayton Tefteller. "And it's consistent and it stays."
 
"We start in kindergarten," says Coach Brandon Williams. "Those kids are competing from then, all the way until they get to high school. So, I mean, that's just something we do at Gilmer is compete."
 
Which is probably why Gilmer graduates have been part of some of the most iconic college football teams in NCAA history, including the 2005-2006 National Championship Texas Longhorns.
 
"When I got to Texas, I was not on scholarship," says Clayton Tefteller. "I was a walk-on player. And I think that, in a lot of ways, is a much more difficult task to do than be a scholarship player. Gilmer was totally instrumental in that. And the number one reason why is because of one thing I learned at Gilmer, and that's maximum effort."
 
"And you know, we've seen Curtis Brown, David Snow. Gus Johnson, Stump Godfrey," Brent Swanner tells KETK. "We have a young man this year, Collin Hurt, that's going to Louisiana Tech."
 
In addition to high-intensity workouts, which have produced some of the state's top players, the coaches make sure they are providing the student-athletes with the tools to win, not only on the gridiron, but in life.
 
"This program is kid-based," says Coach Kurt Traylor. "It's about making that kid a better kid, making him a better person."
 
"When you come to work, you come to school and you come to athletics, and you have that mentality, it just carries on, there's no let-down," says Gilmer head basketball coach Keith Tate.
 
And with having so many Gilmer graduates on staff, the coaches know exactly what to say to their players when they're going through a difficult time, whether it be in or out of school.
 
"I can relate," says Coach Russell Cunningham. "I've been in the same place they've been in. Things are not going to always be good at times. But, in those times, you know, you'll have friends and brothers and coaches that can relate. And you just lean on those guys and those guys will help you get through."
 
The community also feels they have a hand in raising the stars of tomorrow.
 
"We watch the kids grow," Brent Swanner says. "They start coming in at a young age."
 
So, how did Gilmer become a force of nature in Texas high school football? 
 
In 2000, a former Buckeye himself, Jeff Traylor, took the reins, changing the way people see Gilmer, Texas, forever.
 
"I remember I interviewed all the seniors and the biggest deal was they just didn't have pride in what they were doing, they didn't feel like there was pride in the school, pride in the facilities, pride in their winning or accomplishments," says former Gilmer head coach Jeff Traylor. "So, I attacked that."
 
And it wasn't long before the Buckeyes got things turned around.
 
"It was night and day," Coach Olan Johnson says. "When he first came, it was our first winning season in years, we were a mediocre program."
 
The Buckeyes have won three state championships in the past 13 years, with one of those coming in 2004.
 
"I was only a sophomore, and I didn't have a huge role, but I played a little bit," says Gilmer assistant coach Luke Turner. "So, it kind of felt good to be a part of something and have the feeling that maybe I can do this again."
 
Lifting weights and position drills can only get you so far, but what puts Gilmer over the top, comes from within.
 
"We have an unbelievable love for each other," says Coach Jeff Traylor. "It starts with our love for God. And everything we do is here is about Colossians 3:23, which is, 'Everything you do, you should do for the glory for God.' It's a sacrificial love for each other. Nobody cares who gets the credit. It's all about the Buckeyes."
 
And now that the Buckeyes are under the wing of Coach Matt Turner, Coach Jeff Traylor sees even more accomplishments for the team in the future.
 
"Matt Turner and Kurt Traylor, and Alan Metzel and Todd Barr, I can start naming my assistants that have been here for a long time. And they know what we're about, and it'll keep going," says Coach Jeff Traylor. "Those men do a lot, and they've saved a lot of children. And that's what this business is about."
 
The Buckeye spirit that has been instilled in the past 17 years isn't just contained to Upshur County. It's spread to all over, even as far as "The Big Apple."
 
"I've been as far away as Manhattan Island in New York City and had a discussion with a gentleman, two blocks from Wall Street, who knew who the Gilmer Buckeyes were because his son was interested in football and was searching for the best high school football teams in the country, and came across us," says Jarom Tefteller.
 
"Everybody knows where Gilmer, Texas, is when you talk about 4A football," claims Todd Tefteller.
 
But, it's not only the hard work and core values that makes Gilmer so great.
 
"It's the community, from our superintendent Rick Albritton and our school board members," says Coach Matt Turner.
 
"Our administration is unbelievable," says Coach Kurt Traylor. "You know, that's allowed us to learn as coaches and to grow as coaches."
 
Gilmer High School football is so instrumental, it even has an impact on the local economy.
 
"I'm on the city council here in Gilmer and I can tell you, we're experiencing, for us, an economic boom in this community and it's in large part fueled by investment from local Gilmer people who are proud of the community and I think that's directly attributed to the success our football team has had," says Jarom Tefteller. "It makes our job easier to get people behind projects, to get people excited about making the town better because there's that sense of community pride."
 
And that sense of community pride is all based on the love of a small town school.
 
"There's that sense of community and family that permeates throughout the community and into the school district," Buckeyes radio announced Bradley Ellision. "Everybody knows each other, everybody cares about each other and that's what leads to that."
 
And when some players leave the Upshur County town of about 5,000 people, they don't need to come back, they want to.
 
"I was from Gilmer, and I chose to come back to Gilmer," says Coach Jeff Traylor. "And that's what I always wanted for them. I could go on and on, about my former players that are here and giving back to the community. And that's what I wanted. I never wanted any of them to pay me back, I just wanted all of them to pay it forward. And if we all keep doing that in life, life's going to be pretty good."
 
However, it's not just the school that appreciates the hometown love they have, it's the locals, too.
 
"It's always fun for us to see them come back in and, you know, making something out of their life," says Brent Swanner. "They're good kids, good kids."
 
So, next time you head to Jeff Traylor Stadium and the Home of the Buckeyes, don't Google, "What is a Buckeye?," because the people of Gilmer will let you know.
 
"P stands for positive," says Coach Olan Johnson.
 
"Then you've got the R," says Coach Kurt Traylor. "You're going to be respectful."
 
"I, being intense," says Coach Keith Tate.

"D, standing for discipline," says Coach Olan Johnson.
 
"Then you've got the E," says Coach Kurt Traylor. "Every day, every play."
 
"The PRIDE of Gilmer," says Coach Jeff Traylor.

To see a slideshow of pictures from behind the scenes of the shoot, click here.

To see KETK Reagan Roy's previous special report: 'For Love of the Game: A Tribute to #TXHSFB Officials,' click here.
 
Follow KETK's Reagan Roy on Facebook and Twitter.


 

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