Union High School was not used to losing football games.
Before 2020, the Oklahoma Class 6A powerhouse had won eight state titles in the last 20 years. Head Coach Kirk Fridrich had compiled an impressive 142-26 record the past 13 seasons. But a crazy year off the field carried over to the gridiron for the south Tulsa program.
Union, playing its customary brutal early-season schedule, lost its first four games. It was the school’s worst start in 41 years. However, a 34-14 loss to defending state champion Owasso in Week Four offered a glimmer of hope.
“That game pushed us to do better every single day in practice and all the games going forward,” claimed senior running back and team captain A.J. Green. “That was a statement game. We’re here to stay and we’ve got to keep working and get things together. That game was big for us and all the players. It gave us an emotional boost and some confidence.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of our kids,” said Fridrich. “They just came every day. They believed that we’d get it turned around. They believed that things were going to get better. We just needed to clean some stuff up and sure enough, they got some confidence and started winning a few games.”
Part of that change in confidence came with a change at quarterback. Junior Rovaughn Banks gave way to sophomore Grayson Tempest and things started to click offensively.
“Grayson has done a really good job,” stated Fridrich. “He’s a sophomore and continues to get better and better. We realized there might be a better way to get our athletes on the field and use Rovaughn in a different setting and as more of an athlete and adding packages with him. Grayson has executed the playbook really well and has grown into a pretty good little quarterback.”
Also leading Union’s resurgence on offense has been Green, an Arkansas commit who got off to a slow start but has exploded during the winning streak. He’s rushed for 1,215 yards and 18 touchdowns and is also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. He scored two touchdowns last week in the quarterfinal win over Broken Arrow.
“A.J., just like the team, has gotten better and better,” said Fridrich. “He’s one of our team captains and he’s shown great leadership during adversity. Just like last year, he gets better with every rep. He’s turned in to a really good tailback.”
“That would mean a lot,” admitted Green on making it to the finals. “I haven’t been in a championship game since my freshman year. I think it’s about time for us to get back there.”
“Any time you win the district two years in a row, you’re a good football team,” remarked Fridrich on the 9-2 Wolves. “They’ve answered the call every time they’ve gone up against somebody. We know they’re extremely talented. They’re coached well. They’re really, really tough in their defensive front and they have skill kids everywhere on offense.”
2020 has been a wacky year for everyone involved in high school athletics and it’s only fitting that Union experienced its own highs and lows in its quest for a gold ball.
“We’ve been doubted this whole season since we lost the first two games,” said Green. “We just let it drive us and we just kept pushing ourselves to be the team that we are now.”
“I’m not sure I would trade it,” said Fridrich on his team’s 0-4 start. “Sure, we would have liked to have won a couple games and gotten some confidence, but we were able to really find ourselves as well.”