John Tyler’s transition into what current team and community members refer to as the “new era” added to the school’s already-rich football tradition.
One dictionary defines era as “a period of time marked by distinctive character (and) events.” Winning has been the recognizable mark during each period of the school that has been known as Tyler High, John Tyler High, and by Cujo on the gridiron.
A number of titles dominate the attire of John Tyler fans, from Lions to Cujo and New Era, which can be seen on shirts, sweaters, scarves and the likes.
“It’s a big movement,” JT senior receiver Justice Liggins said about the “New Era” creed. “We’re trying to make history and leave a mark.”
In its third year playing in Class 4A, JT needs two more wins to stamp the “new era” with a title run. JT competes in the 4A Division I state semifinals Friday against Denton Guyer in Midlothian. The winner advances to the championship game on Dec. 22 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
The season started with the 2012 team paying homage to the school’s last champions from 1994.
“I think it’s great,” said Taafee Hines, who starred at linebacker and running back on the 1994 Lions team. “It’s good to see you have kids still coming up trying to keep that Cujo alive.”
The JT football program dates back almost a century. The school is one of the state’s more unique, making the playoffs in eight different decades since the creation of the UIL, the lone exception during the 1960s when the team shared two district tiles at a time when only one school qualified from the playoffs.
The school has not only changed names, but switched buildings from downtown to the current location off the northwest loop.
One constant highlights John Tyler’s history: a gridiron forced to be reckoned with.
The three most recognizable areas, or distinctive periods of the school’s history, all featured one thing in common: a state title. While the 2010 Lions consider it a “new era,” in reality they aspire to do old things, namely join the 1930, 1973 and 1994 teams as champions.
First-year JT head coach Ricklan Holmes played during the early days of the “Cujo” era, know for programs and swarming defenses.
Now, instead of winning with a smash-mount brand, JT uses a more-finesse style, although the results still mirror one another. JT recently won a school-record fourth consecutive district title. JT has reached at least the fourth round four years and counting, getting to the semifinals the last two years.
“Right now it’s the old with the new,” Holmes said. “You have the new-age athletes that are bigger, stronger and faster than we were in the 90s. Now you have that mental toughness that I bring when I was playing here and going through the college and professional ranks.”
The 1994 team stamped its mark, and in the process stepped out the shadows of Earl Campbell, the star of the 1973 squad, with the school’s first title in 21 years. The current Lions look to end another lengthy streak now 18 years long.
“It’s definitely a new era,” former John Tyler quarterback Morris Anderson said. “There’s no need to worry about the comparisons. They’ve got something going on their own. They just need to make what they have theirs and own that.”
LION FOOTBALL ERAs*
Playoff Appearances: 10
District titles: 10
State championships: 1930
Noteworthy: Back when only one team advanced to the playoffs, the Tyler Lions established the model for future eras to follow. The school was housed downtown at the site of the present Caldwell Elementary. At the time all white students in the city attended the same high school. Black students attended Emmett Scott through the end of the 1960s. Robert E. Lee opened its doors in 1958, and the school changed names the same year.
Playoff appearances: 5
District titles: 7
State championships: 1973
Noteworthy: This era produced Hall-of-Famer Earl Campbell, who in 1973 led JT to a perfect season (15-0) and a 4A title, then the state’s highest classification. JT won 26 games over a three-year span (1972-74). The talent-heavy stretch featured 17 all-state players when eventually two teams made the playoffs starting in 1980 with the creation of 5A. JT went the final 17 years of the era minus a playoff win.
Playoff appearances: 14
District titles: 4
State championships: 1994
Noteworthy: During the Class 5A era when three or more teams reached the playoffs, the Lions (defense in particular) transformed into “Cujo” under former coach Carlous Stone. As the highlight of the latter part of the encompassing John Tyler ear, Cujo came into statewide focus in 1994 while worn on the playoffs jerseys en route to the 5A Division II state title.
New (4A) Era
Playoff appearances: 3
District titles: 3
Noteworthy: This latest period of John Tyler football kicked off when the Lions dropped to 4A, the first time outside the highest classification in school history. For the first time, a JT alum (Ricklan Holmes) leads the Lions football program.
*—This unofficial list serves to divide different periods in the history of John Tyler, highlighted by certain characteristics, such as classification. Some eras overlap, with the school referred to as Tyler still by the UIL. John Tyler has been the name of the high school since 1958, and the Cujo nickname is still commonplace.