Tanner Barr didn’t have to come up with a provoking pitch for his speech class presentation Tuesday morning.
The Gilmer junior quarterback’s assignment was to persuade his classmates to attend the Buckeyes’ state championship game against No. 1 Navasota on Friday at Cowboys Stadium.
“Come watch the Buckeyes,” was about the extent of Barr’s message.
Not a hard sell. Then again, he didn’t need one.
Gilmer fans will no doubt flock to Arlington to watch their team try to win its third state title in nine years.
Barr knows all about the program’s winning culture. He’s seen it up close and personal for more than a decade.
He watched from the stands when the Buckeyes won state in 2004 and 2009. His father, Todd, is Gilmer’s defensive coordinator and has been on coach Jeff Traylor’s staff since 2000, while his brother, Ty, started at linebacker on the 2009 team and now attends games after returning from a stint in the Navy.
“My brother motivates me,” Barr said. “I didn’t get to see him for about a year and a half. So he came home and now he’s at every game and asks me about practice. Just encouraging me to be the best I can.”
Ty will be in the stands on Friday watching his younger brother quarterback Gilmer in its fourth state championship game appearance under Traylor.
“It’s crazy,” the younger Barr said. “I’ve always dreamed of it, but I couldn’t have imagined going to Cowboys Stadium. I always looked up to those guys.”
In order to win the title, Barr and the Buckeyes will have to beat an undefeated Navasota team that has won all but two games by at least four touchdowns this season.
“I’m hearing we’re a double-digit underdog to some, a touchdown to others,” Traylor said. “But rightly so. They’ve been the team to beat all year. We were an afterthought.”
Gilmer hadn’t been in the underdog role often in recent history. But that changed this fall thanks to a young roster.
The Buckeyes have a nucleus largely comprised of sophomores and juniors, including Barr, who hadn’t played quarterback since eighth grade. The inexperience showed early in the season, leaving Traylor questioning whether his team would even make the playoffs thanks to playing in the brutally tough District 16-3A.
“We easily could have been 3-4 at our open break,” Traylor said. “We were losing by 20 points to Jacksonville, tied with Daingerfield late, losing by 13 to Gladewater in the fourth quarter, losing to Chapel Hill in the fourth and won all those. We were fortunate to beat Henderson late.”
The Buckeyes turned it around after the bye week, going on to beat Kilgore for the district title and go on the playoff run.
Barr has put up big numbers in his first season at quarterback, throwing for almost 2,900 yards and 25 touchdowns, while rushing for 849 yards and five more scores. Gilmer’s offensive numbers pale in comparison to Navasota, though.
The Rattlers average 45 points per game and feature a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,500-yard receivers. Quarterback Kadarius Baker was named Associated Press 3A Offensive Player of the Year for throwing for 4,252 yards and 53 touchdowns.
“They’re like playing Playstation football,” Traylor said. “Baker is fantastic. No one’s stopped them. We don’t have anything to lose. We’re excited about being there.”
Gilmer doesn’t shy away from the underdog role despite the program’s success in recent years and impressive run through the playoffs.
“I know the Plano game and the Kilgore game we were underdogs,” Barr said. “I’m just glad we can go out there and play hard and prove people wrong. We’ve just got to come with the same mentality this week. Prove everybody wrong.”
Barr was a freshman when he watched his older brother play in Gilmer’s 42-35 regional final win over Navasota on the way to winning the 2009 state title.
This year’s matchup is for it all.
Little brother is trying to win his own ring.
(Follow Jimmy Carter on Twitter: @jicartersports)