SAN ANTONIO – When head coach Kemmie Lewis lifted Memorial’s first district championship trophy in school history last Friday, it was symbolic of the new heights the Minutemen had reached during an incredible season.
It’s been an unbelievable journey for the Memorial football team, a group that went winless a year ago and had won only one game in the last three seasons combined.
Not much was expected from the West Side school, and after an ominous 1-3 start to the year, the season was going to script.
But that first win against Jefferson was significant. It was a triple-overtime thriller that also ended a 30-game district losing streak.
After a tough loss to playoffs-bound Sam Houston, Memorial rattled off six straight wins to claim the district outright and become the San Antonio high school football story of the year.
Lewis looks back at those two weeks as the turning point of the season. It showed the Minutemen were resilient and were not going to lay down against anyone this season. Now, they are district champs.
“That trophy means a lot for this community, for the kids, that was our goal and what we set out for,” Lewis said. "I kissed the gold ball and it was a good feeling. I wanted our kids to touch it and feel it, and understand what it means. It really symbolizes all the hard work that we put into this thing and they deserve it.”
Lewis has been the driving force behind Memorial’s magical season. Whether it's backflips after victories or at pep rallies, the 34-year-old head coach has brought a mix of youth, fun and energy to the team.
"I think it’s important that coaches do different things to show them we just are not going to show you X’s and O’s, we are human as well,” Lewis said.
Lewis’s enthusiasm has trickled down to his players. They say they have never been around a head coach with his style.
“Coach Lewis does a great job of just bringing us together and putting us in the right place, and we’re just here for each other and play for each other,” said Anthony Esparza, Memorial quarterback.
“He’s been my coach since middle school and made a big impact on this team,” said Sergio Buciaga, Memorial offensive linemen. “We’ve come a long way from a losing school to becoming district champs. It’s great to see our team continue to make history.”
When asked to discuss the team’s success, Lewis is quick to give credit to his coaching staff and the players who have been dedicated to turning around the culture since two-a-days began in August.
“I know a lot of people are focused on what I do, (but) reality is these coaches put in the same amount of hours and the expectation is there, kudos go out to those guys for making sure we uphold the standard of winning,” Lewis said.
“We’re trying to make history at this school. We work as a family, we all keep each other up, we don’t have a negative on this team,” said Julian Esparza, senior defensive lineman and punter.
The team has invigorated the West Side community as well. Alumni from as far back the late 60s, when the school opened, have reached out to Lewis to offer their congratulations on winning district. Lewis says the support has been amazing, but they are not done yet.
“It’s been a tremendous season,” Lewis said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of success and, we don’t want it to stop.”
Now the focus shifts to the school’s first playoff game in years against Victoria West on Friday.
It will be another challenge for a group of young men and coaches that have already jumped over multiple hurdles and a losing stigma to reach this point.
“Now that we’re this far, there’s no reason for us to stop or back down,” said Xavier Banks, senior defensive back. “We’re going to finish this fight full and strong.”