It’s been a long time, but Andre Willie has been here before, and boy is he thrilled to be back.

As the West Oso Bears’ offensive line and strength and conditioning coach, Willie is front and center to the westside Corpus Christi football program’s resurgence and their run to the third round of the Class 4A, Div. II state playoffs.

The Bears beat Llano, 62-31, in San Antonio’s Alamo Stadium Friday to earn a trip to the regional semifinals and a rematch against state-ranked Cuero. The match-up is at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Heroes Stadium back in San Antonio.

For Willie, West Oso’s remarkable run is reminiscent of his high school days with the Alice Coyotes. As one of the top linemen in the Coastal Bend, Willie helped anchor an offensive line which was the foundation of back-to-back appearances in the state semifinals in the Houston Astrodome in 1998 and 1999. In fact, although he was part of playoff teams as a varsity assistant at Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco and Freer, this is the first time he’s been to the third round of the postseason since he played in Alice.

“I’ll tell you what, I haven’t been around the third round of the playoffs since I was in Alice and this time I’m getting to experience it as a coach,” said Willie, who graduated from Alice High School in 2000 before joining Texas A&M University-Kingsville. “As a coach, you live off the kids’ excitement. It feels a lot like when I was in high school in Alice.”

The teams Willie coached before were in the postseason, but never played this late in the season. After seven seasons at Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco, two in Freer and last year with the Bears, this kind of run makes a veteran coach appreciate all of the hard and of the time put into achieving success.

“A lot of teams don’t make it this far,” he said. “You’ll see the first or second round, but once you get to the third or fourth round, there are only a few schools from around here that get that far. It’s something to be proud of because this is something we started working on at the end of last season. We’ve been grinding for this since then.”

Of all the high school programs in the Coastal Bend, West Oso is one of only seven still playing. The Bears are driven by an offense that can put up points. They’re averaging nearly 40 points a game for the season. West Oso also won its last five in which they scored an average of 46 points a game. They had their highest offensive output in a 57-56 win against Port Isabel in the bi-district playoffs. They topped that Friday by scoring 62 in the lopsided win against Llano.

It’s impressive for a program which before last season hadn’t been to the state playoffs in 11 years.

Willie said West Oso is a program loaded with talent. It was simply needed a kickstart.

“For a coach, the hardest thing is teaching a kid to compete and how to compete beyond their talent,” he said. “That’s something that’s always been a tradition in Alice. We were always successful because we played above our talent. Here in West Oso, our kids, going back to their seventh-grade season, had never seen the team in the playoffs before last year.”

West Oso’s regional semifinal match is against Cuero, the same team that beat the Bears, 67-10, in the bi-district playoffs in 2017. Cuero is 12-1 and beat Wimberly, 44-36, last week. Willie expects a much better showing by the Bears this time around.

"Cuero is very good," he said. "They have some kids are really legit, but I think we're a better team this year, and we understand how to compete and how to win."