Talk about being the center of attention.
Robert E. Lee senior Reed Pool stood in the middle of a massive circle comprised of teammates and students, each waiting in rapt anticipation for Pool to begin.
Pool started Lee’s version of “The Haka” and the circle of voices around him followed suit until a final hurrah, which brought everyone together for a celebration huddle.
Lee had just beaten Longview to secure a spot in the Class 5A Region II semifinals, the school’s best season in a decade.
First year head coach Marty Germany took over a team that had gone 6-14-1 the previous season, and helped by his senior co-captain, Pool, pushed REL to within touching distance of the state tournament.
Pool is Player of the Year for the 2012 All-East Texas Soccer team with Germany chosen Coach of the Year.
“It’s one of those honors that stays with you your whole life,” said Pool, who follows Kilgore’s Jose Barron as All-ET MVP. “In soccer I’ve received awards, but never any of this extreme. This is basically the best player in East Texas and it makes me feel like all of the hard work I put in has paid off.”
Pool adds this award to being chosen District 11-5A Midfielder of the Year and MVP of the TASCO Senior Showcase All-Star Game.
Germany is the first Lee coach ever to be named Coach of the Year, but said his players deserve the credit.
“Before every game my wife sends me a text that says, ‘Play hard.’ I always answer back ‘They won’t let me play,’” said Germany who was an assistant under Lee’s legendary coach Rich Brands for 13 years.
“They are the ones that go out and do the hard work and I just try to support them and put them in the best possible spot. Also, I can’t accept this award without acknowledging Coach Brands and everything he did for me. It’s an honor to receive this.”
Despite Lee’s poor showing in 2011, the first-year head coach began this season with clear expectations of reaching the state tournament. REL fell two wins shy, giving Germany something to push toward next year.
“I felt like going into the year that if I could find a goal scorer and we could get better (defense) and goalkeeping than the year before, we had a chance to do well,” Germany said. “We found the goal scorer, our goalkeeping was better and we meshed better as a team.”
Senior Tanner Tebbetts joined the team after not playing since he was in middle school. Named Newcomer of the Year on this year’s All-ET team, Tebbetts finished with 14 goals and scored three times during the playoffs. Shoring up the defense was senior George Martinez (11-5A defender of the year) junior Michael Wilkins (second-team All-ET) and senior keeper Austin Martel.
Meanwhile, Pool was the quarterback of everything while also putting in 13 goals.
But things got off to an inauspicious start as Lee went 1-1-2 in its first four matches.
“Our first regulation game before kickoff George and Reed both were injured, and 20 minutes in (starting defender) Robert Hawk was out and my starting goalkeeper was out,” Germany said. “We immediately were in a situation with injuries, and it came down to how we would respond.”
The Red Raiders battled through the regular season to finish third in District 11-5A, and were finally completely healthy as they began the playoffs against favored A&M Consolidated.
Germany said Reed then changed his hairstyle to a Mohawk, which was then followed by many other players.
“That was the point I knew we would be successful in the playoffs,” Germany said. “Reed provides the goals and assists, but it’s really those other intangibles; the number of times I heard him go up to (a teammate) and tell him how much he loved him and how much he appreciated him. Those things really brought us together.
“I think he deserves to be Player of the Year. He was our leader on the field.”
Lee upset A&M Consolidated, thanks to an out-of-nowhere goal from Tebbetts and insurance goal from Wilkins, but the real stunner was yet to come. REL next faced Richardson Berkner, ranked No. 3 in the nation by ESPN RISE, in the area round. Berkner had lost once all season and was the unquestioned favorites, but thanks to more heroics from Tebbetts, who scored an overtime winner, Lee won again.
REL followed that with a third-straight playoff win over Longview to reach the regional semifinals.
The Red Raiders lose several players to graduation for next year but Germany believes the path has been laid for future success.