The last time Austin Emery stepped on the field against Sherman, he was in a much different role.
Denison's senior quarterback never strayed too far off the sideline at Munson Stadium in his capacity as an assistant coach.
He was stuck there because of a shoulder injury suffered in the district opener six weeks earlier that ended his season. As much as he wanted to be out there, he could only offer his guidance and assistance as the Yellow Jackets defended their home turf in winning against their rivals for the fourth straight season.
Emery was part of the victory as a sophomore when he was a starting wide receiver. The spotlight has gotten a little more brighter in his time behind center and will remain there as he is closing out one of the more multi-talented careers at Denison.
Before entering the playoffs — which will be a first for him, Emery will look to extend the Jackets' streak to an unprecedented five victories as Denison travels to Sherman for the 119th Battle of the Ax. In the history of the rivalry, the Jackets have never won more than four straight against the Bearcats, something last year's outcome did to match streaks from 1963-66 and 1945-48.
“We have to put ourselves in the right mindset and have a good week of practice and be ready for Friday,” Emery said.
If Denison is able to add to its recent success, having won seven of the last 10 meetings and 14 of the last 22, Emery will play a significant role.
“It's kinda in the back of your head that every play starts with you,” he said. “You just do your job and the pressure goes away in the moment.”
So far this season Emery and the rest of the Jackets have done their jobs very well. Denison has already won more games than any season since reaching the state semifinals in 2009 and still have a couple of chances to add to that total.
Leading the way on the offense as the quarterback, Emery and the unit overcame a sluggish start to the season before picking things up following the first three games.
“He just wants to be great every single play,” Denison head coach Chad Rogers said. “And that's been the hardest thing to tell him. Every play can't be perfect but the next one can.”
The Jackets have averaged 37 points and scored at least 55 points in three times in the past six games. On two occasions the team rushed for at least 400 yards and just missed in another outing.
Emery has completed 64-of-123 passes for 1,004 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He is also the team's leading rusher with 868 yards and 12 touchdowns on 156 carries.
This was his first full season as the starter because the shoulder injury ended his junior year after four games. His last game of 2016 was one of the best in school history — Emery ran for 289 yards, which is the 10th-best total in school history and most by a quarterback, and four touchdowns (including the game-winner with 58 seconds left) against Frisco Heritage. It was a breakout performance. And just like that, on the first series against Wichita Falls, he was out for the year.
Denison ended up third in the standings, kept the Ax and then made the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Even though he was in a different role, Emery played his part as a mentor and teammate.
“Last year I wanted to be out there so much and I just helped as best I could,” Emery said. “I don't feel like I missed anything because I stayed in it. It's just a special thing to get to play.”
Emery plays a lot for the Jackets. In addition to being the quarterback, he handles kicking and punting duties for an all-around effort. In his career he has made 67 extra points and two field goals. This season he is averaging 34.8 yards per punt with a long of 60 yards.
“Growing up playing soccer, I always wanted to be a kicker all my life,” Emery said. “Punting was just added because of soccer.”
He is 15th all-time in Denison scoring with 175 points and among those ahead of him on the list, only Erick Harper in eighth place has also contributed in all three areas.
“Austin's the definition of a football player,” Rogers said. “If we put him on defense it'd probably be at linebacker.”
During district play, he surpassed 1,000 yards for his career both rushing and passing. He is one of only six Jackets to achieve that milestone, alongside Jordan Taylor, Devon Blanton, Clifton Hines, Stanley Morrison and Reggie Perry.
He enters the match-up against Sherman sitting 14th in career passing yards at 1,425 and 28th in career rushing yards with 1,267 yards. He needs three touchdowns to become the 20th Denison player with 20 rushing scores.
Emery quarterbacked the freshman team but then moved to receiver as a sophomore. He had six catches for 52 yards and three carries for 10 yards and a touchdown.
“I guess I'm a receiver now,” Emery said about his switch when we got to the varsity. “That's the only year I played it.”
Then after that season, classmate Hunter Watson — who had always been the quarterback growing up and Emery served as his backup — said in January he was going to focus on baseball only before ultimately transferring to Pottsboro in July.
That thrust Emery into the starting role.
“It was kind of a shock at first,” Emery said. “But I had done it my freshman year. Of course it was a big jump to go from freshman to varsity.”