Gartrell is equally as proud of his defensive unit, who as a group has surrendered seven points or less in their last six games. The last time they gave up more was in their 14-9 setback against Mount Zion-Jonesboro, their only loss of the season.
The Stephenson defense is young, but there are some experienced leaders like 6-foot-3 280-pound defensive tackle Janirr Wade, who is committed to Akron, and Javier Morton, a 6-1, 187-pound safety who decommitted from Alabama and is now leaning more toward Georgia Tech.
No doubt, Stephenson's record and the standout players are a big part of their story. But to me the best part of the story is Gartrell. Now in the 32nd season of a head coaching career that started at old Shamrock High School, Gartrell is the only head football coach that Stephenson High School has ever known. In 24 years under his direction, the Jaguars have only had one losing season.
For a time, several years ago, it looked like the need for hip replacement would do something that opponents couldn't do. The coach refused to be permanently sidelined. Gartrell takes his time and moves a bit slower these days, but in so doing shows his team an example of never giving up.
"The hip replacement was a success," recalls Gartrell. “It just took some time to heal, but overall I'm doing really well. It was supposed to be a two-month recovery period , but it ended up lasting most of 2016 and 2017. I stayed off the field on gameday because I could not stand on the sidelines very long. I believe I missed two games, and had four surgeries over 18 months. There were times when I thought that the career was over. The doctors took me apart and put me back together. Now I'm having fun. People ask me all the time about retiring, but I am having more fun now than I have had in a very long time."