By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (June 15, 2017) — A two-time state champion Yellow Jacket football player has returned home to coach in Stephenville, this time at the varsity level.
Jessie Fanning brings 10 years experience to his new role coaching strong safeties. He’s learned from hall of famers like Mike Copeland and Terry Gambhill and has a state championship pedigree from right here in his hometown.
Fanning started 16 games at cornerback for the state championship Stephenville team of 1999 on a defense coordinated by Copeland, now athletic director at SISD and a member of the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor. He has come home before, coaching and teaching two years at Henderson Junior High before moving up to the varsity level at Midway. Fanning was there two years before Gambhill, a former Texan football star and member of the Tarleton Athletics Hall of Fame, was hired away by Allen, arguably the loftiest of all high school head coaching jobs in Texas.
Gambhill was only allowed to take his coordinators and son to Allen, and Midway soon had a new head coach with full staff en route to Waco. Fanning took a year off, but when a varsity opening came up at Stephenville, he was eager to get back in the game.
“In this stage of life, the opportunity to make a living doing what we love and do it here was too good to pass up. Now that we’re back, it’s hard to imagine doing it anywhere else,” said Fainning. “My wife and I were born and raised here and both sets of grandparents are here.”
His wife, Cortney Robertson Fanning , is finishing her master’s degree as a nurse practitioner. They have a daughter, Addison, 8, and a son, Jett, 3.
Fanning returns to Stephenville as a better coach, he says, than when he left in 2014.
“I probably became a better coach over those two years than I did over the previous eight combined. It was just the way we ran things and the expectations on us as coaches that trickled down to our players. We ran about as close to a college football program as you can and still be in high school,” Fanning said. “It was fun getting to work some great athletes and such outstanding coaches.”
Fanning came home to a staff led by third-year head coach Greg Winder, and to a defense under the direction of first-year coordinator Cody Moore, joining the effort to effectively employ a 4-2-5 defense Moore first learned as a defensive lineman at TCU.
In his high school days, Fanning recalls the experience of being a junior varsity player dressing out with the varsity for the playoffs in 1998. Technically, he is indeed a two-time state champion, though he is quick to admit he was among the junior varsity players called up for the playoffs in 1998 and saw limited action including only one play – the final kneel down – when Stephenville rolled to a 34-7 state championship rout of La Marque at Texas Stadium in Irving.
“I wasn’t on the varsity in 1998, but the experience we all gained from being a small part of the playoff run really helped us understand what it would take to accomplish that,” he said. “I think it was a big reason why we won it again in 1999.”
Stephenville won 28-18 over Port Neches-Groves in the 1999 championship, the fourth 4A title in seven years for the Yellow Jackets. Fanning said lessons from playing in a championship program stick with him to this day.
“There is just an understanding of what it takes to win at that level, and I’ve seen it at the places where I’ve coached,” he said. “I’ve been a part of some great programs and some not quite as good, and there is just a difference, mostly in expectations and attitude. It starts with the community and trickles down to the administration and coaches then to the players. If you expect to win and have a winning attitude, you will usually find a way to be successful.”
Fanning calls it an honor to be back around Copeland and the coaching staff at Stephenville.
“Since I left I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of these guys, and I’ve always kept up with Coach Copeland,” he said. “He’s great, he hasn’t changed a bit. It’s an honor to be back around these coaches, and also to get to work for Coach Winder. Then to have Coach Copeland still around, and now as athletic director, is just another honor, a big one.”