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End of an era: Cartwright closes one of state’s top coaching careers

By Richard Greene | Published Wednesday, January 18, 2012

EXITING THE STAGE - After 35 years as the Boyd coach, J.G. Cartwright announced Monday that he will retire in June. The Yellowjackets' coach will retire with 274 wins, the 15th most in Texas high school football history. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

When J.G. Cartwright arrived in Boyd in 1974 as an assistant coach, sustained success had been hard for the Yellowjackets to find.

The program had not won a district title since 1969 and only captured two since the 1950s.

Thirty-eight years, 12 district titles, three state championship appearances and two state crowns later, Cartwright is closing one of Texas high school football’s more storied careers. Monday, the Yellowjackets’ athletic director and head football coach for 35 years announced that he is retiring in June.

“It was time,” Cartwright said. “Everyone that I started out with has been retired for several years.”

Cartwright leaves the coaching ranks as one of the elites, piling up 274 wins in his 401 games on the sidelines.

“He’s No. 15 in the state of Texas (in wins),” said Boyd Superintendent John Emshoff. “It’s not like it’s Arkansas, Louisiana or Oklahoma. This is a hard state to win in.”

Almost unprecedented, the quiet-talking Cartwright spent his entire career at Boyd.

“What he’s done at Boyd is totally amazing in our profession,” said Danny Henson, who has been on the Bridgeport sidelines since 1993. “Few people do anything close to that.”

When he started, Cartwright never expected to remain in Boyd.

“When I got into coaching, I thought coaches moved every two years,” Cartwright said. “I expected to be here a couple of years and be gone. It never happened. I never had a good enough reason to leave, or I didn’t make the wrong person mad at the wrong time.

“But I really like it. I think it’s a real nice community to live in.”

Emshoff said the community was the winner for Cartwright staying.

“The victories he’s had on the field – and there’s been many – do not compare with the victories in the lives of the young people he’s coached,” Emshoff said. “The state is filled with great coaches but few legends. Boyd has one of the biggest legends in high school football in Coach Cartwright.”

A few games into his head coaching career that started in 1977, Cartwright thought his days on the Yellowjackets sidelines would be few. His first game was a 55-6 loss to Pilot Point.

“I remember after that first game, I decided at the end of the season that I was going to do something else,” Cartwright recalled in 2010.

That was followed by a loss to Southlake Carroll and then ties against Alvord and Paradise. Cartwright earned his first win over Callisburg, 26-14. The Yellowjackets finished his first season 3-4-3.

With Cartwright poring over every detail and breaking down game plans, the program ascended quickly with nine- and eight-game wins in the next two seasons. In 1980, Boyd claimed its first district title in 11 years and earned Cartwright’s first playoff win, 34-27, over Whitewright.

Three seasons later Cartwright and the Yellowjackets with Billy Joe Tolliver at quarterback claimed the program’s first state title after a 15-0-1 campaign. Boyd beat Groveton 18-6 in the title game in Waco.

“That ’83 season came out of nowhere,” Cartwright said. “We were 6-4 the year before, and Billy Joe Tolliver got hurt. That was just a good group of senior leaders. We had been nowhere near playing six playoff games before.”

After that state title, Boyd and Cartwright hoped to be a regular in the title game. But the program would have to go through a series of close calls before returning.

In 1993 with his son Robby at quarterback, the Yellowjackets fell to Pilot Point 7-6 in the Class 2A quarterfinals. The Yellowjackets made it back to the title game in 1999, falling to Mart and current NFL player Quan Cosby in the rain.

“In ’99 we had an outstanding group,” Cartwright recalled. “What caught them was Quan Cosby, his brother and John Garrett.”

Boyd and Cartwright got another shot at a state title in 2004 and took down Newton 17-14 to claim the crown with a perfect 15-0 record.

“Twenty-one years later we did it again with another group of outstanding seniors,” Cartwright said.

“After so long, you begin to wonder if it’s going to happen again,” the coach said in a 2010 interview. “In 2004, everything fell into place.”

Through his three-and- a-half decades on the sidelines, Cartwright has made a strong impression on the teenage boys who have played for him. In recent years many have been the sons of players from his teams in the 1970s and ’80s.

“He’s coached generations of families,” Emshoff said. “That doesn’t happen often.”

Cartwright also has made a big influence on his contemporaries around the county.

“You always knew when you went against a Cartwright team they were going to be fundamentally sound and prepared,” said Paradise coach Danny Neighbors, who was a junior at Alvord when Cartwright took over at Boyd. “You can’t argue with his record. He’s also done a good job with what he has.”

Decatur coach Kyle Story, who has been on the Eagles’ sidelines since 1999, said he sought Cartwright for advice on his own career.

“He was a mentor of sorts,” Story said. “I took the time to call him for advice, and he’s given me advice on how to handle things in my career.

“He’s always run a program the way you are supposed to. He’s definitely someone you can look up to.”

Cartwright said he considered not coming back for this final season. His Yellowjackets went on to go 9-3 and advance to the area round of the Class 2A Division I playoffs.

“It was an honor to play for a Texas high school legend,” said Boyd quarterback Jared Cate, who threw for more than 3,000 yards this year. “It was an honor to learn from him and learn his way. It was an honor to be on the last team he coached. I’m glad he waited.”

There have been many highlights during his long career including the two state titles and the four years he coached his son. But as a coach he said he remembers the losses more than wins.

As he steps away, Cartwright will miss the preparation each week before games along with the offseason work. But what he said he will truly miss are the people involved.

“It helps you stay young being around a group of young kids all the time,” Cartwright said. “We’ve had some outstanding kids. They may not have been the best, but they worked hard.

“What I’m going to miss most is the association with the coaches and players.”

LASTING LEGACY - After spending 38 years in Boyd, including 35 as the Yellowjackets' head coach, J.G. Cartwright announced Monday that he will retire in June. Cartwright built Boyd into a Class 2A power, winning two state titles. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

WISE COACHES’ TENURES

With Boyd’s J.G. Cartwright’s retirement after 35 years as the Yellowjackets’ head coach, Bridgeport’s Danny Henson becomes the county’s longest tenured coach. Here are Wise County’s other head football coaches with the year they started their current roles.

  • Curtis Enis, Alvord … 2011
  • Danny Henson, Bridgeport … 1993
  • Stephen Carter, Chico … 2010
  • Kyle Story, Decatur … 1999
  • Bill Patterson, Northwest … 2009
  • Danny Neighbors, Paradise … 1997

CARTWRIGHT’S RECORD

For 35 years, J.G. Cartwright has guided the Boyd Yellowjackets. He posted 26 winning seasons, won 12 district titles and two state crowns. Here’s the breakdown of his 273-122-5 record.

  • 1977 … 3-4-3
  • 1978 … 9-1
  • 1979 … 8-2
  • 1980 … 10-2
  • 1981 … 7-2-1
  • 1982 … 6-4
  • 1983 … 15-0-1
  • 1984 … 6-4
  • 1985 … 6-5
  • 1986 … 9-2
  • 1987 … 9-2
  • 1988 … 5-5
  • 1989 … 2-8
  • 1990 … 6-4
  • 1991 … 9-2
  • 1992 … 11-1
  • 1993 … 13-1
  • 1994 … 7-3
  • 1995 … 9-3
  • 1996 … 7-3
  • 1997 … 4-6
  • 1998 … 11-2
  • 1999 … 14-1
  • 2000 … 4-7
  • 2001 … 5-6
  • 2002 … 4-6
  • 2003 … 9-3
  • 2004 … 15-0
  • 2005 … 8-3
  • 2006 … 10-4
  • 2007 … 9-5
  • 2008 … 5-6
  • 2009 … 6-5
  • 2010 … 4-7
  • 2011 … 9-3

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