All of the hard work has paid off for three Yellow Jackets who are hoping to continue their cross-country success this fall at the Class 5A Region I meet early next week.


Seniors Aubyn Thompson and Wilson Kirkbride and sophomore Christina Hernandez will run at the regional race on Monday at Mae Simmons Park in Lubbock as they try to earn a spot in the state meet next month in Round Rock.


It is the first time since 2011 that the program has sent at least three qualifiers and it is the third straight season to have a qualifier for the first time since 2001-03.


Thompson is making her third straight regional appearance after dealing with some injuries and was third at the 5-5A meet in 20:36.49. She won the district title as a junior and then was 41st at the region meet in 20:08.44, 52 seconds behind the last state qualifying spot.


“As long as I was ready for district, that was the important thing,” Thompson said. “That was the goal, find a way to be back at regionals. Now hopefully I can find a way to make it to state.”


Hernandez came up just short of regionals as a freshman, finishing 11th when the top 10 advance. This time she placed eighth in 21:33.02, cutting nearly 30 seconds from a year ago.


“I didn’t want to be on the edge. I wanted to be safe about going,” Hernandez said. “There was definitely a lot more training and the strategy of running a 5K. Staying with Aubyn at regionals, that’s the goal.”


The Lady Jackets almost qualified as a team but were a point behind third-place Denton Braswell in the 5-5A standings.


“That was really upsetting,” Thompson said. “I really wanted to get to regionals with my best friends and teammates. We were so close.”


Kirkbride finished eighth on the boys side in 17:58.39 to qualify after placing 17th as a junior. He improved by 13 seconds on that effort to get into the top 10.


“My goal had been to get a 17 because the top 10 last year was all 17s and that would be good enough to make it,” Kirkbride said. “I worked the whole season. At the end (of district) I knew I had three people I had to pass. I kicked it in earlier than I usually do and hoped to eke it out at the end.”


Captains Corner


The captains for Denison’s win against Wichita Falls Rider last week were seniors Austin Emery, Ty McFail, Jadan Forbes and Osvaldo Delarosa. It was the sixth straight week McFail and Forbes were selected as captains. It was the third time, and second straight game, Emery was a captain and the first time this season of Delarosa. The Jackets are rotating the four spots from week to week based on what happens during practice and the prior game.


Touch of Gray


D.J. Gray found the end zone for the second straight game and was the leading Yellow Jacket receiver for the second time in three contests after his output during the team’s 41-38 overtime victory against Rider.


The senior tight end/h-back had four catches for 71 yards — both career highs — including a 32-yard touchdown grab early in the second quarter.


“Coach Rogers talked to me and told me I needed to get better,” Gray said. “I took that real personal and it’s been showing out on the field. They put me wherever I’m best at. Last game I was in the slot a lot more.”


Gray has 10 catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns so far this season, either leading or tied for the team lead in all three categories, and in two years he has 20 catches for 252 yards and three TDs. He needs 10 catches to get into the top 30 on the Denison all-time list and two touchdowns to get into the top 20.


“What D.J. does well is line up where he’s supposed to and run the route he’s supposed to,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “If it’s a touchdown, he’s going to catch it.”


Dual threat


For the second straight week Austin Emery reached a career milestone and put himself in some rare company.


Emery had 135 rushing yards in the victory against Rider that pushed him over 1,000 for his career. In the prior game, the senior quarterback surpassed 1,000 career yards passing.


He was the 21st Jacket to do that passing and the 37th Jacket to do that rushing. But he is one of just six players in program history to do both of those things during his varsity career.


Emery joins Devon Blanton (2012-14), Clifton Hines (2010-12), Jordan Taylor (2007-09), Stanley Morrison (2005-06) and Reggie Perry (1986-88) to pull off that feat.


Blanton, Taylor and Morrison are the only ones to have 1,500 career yards in each category with Taylor and Morrison the two to get to 2,000 each as well.


The other dimension to Emery’s game is on special teams and he will reach a scoring milestone soon as well. After being responsible for 29 points against Rider, Emery is eight points short of 150 for his career, a number that would tie him for 20th in program history.


Emery has scored 15 touchdowns and kicked 52 extra points as well as two field goals and he would join only Erick Harper (1983-85) as the only Jackets in the top 20 to have earned points in all three of those ways.