Joel Applebee & Brandon Clark

Brandon Clark and Joel Applebee’s phones are set ablaze by calls and texts on Friday nights.

As coaches that have led their programs to a combined nine state championship games, it is somewhat expected. Family, friends, program graduates or peers in the coaching community enjoy chiming in, but the exchange with one another sinks deeper.

Head coaches at Derby and Mill Valley High School, respectively, the cousins are in almost constant contact. Football remains a focal point, but a relationship that began early extended as roommates in Manhattan to joint head coach and defensive coordinator sits atop the list.

Both coaches are celebrating new state berths with their programs this year, giving Derby its 11th trip, while Mill Valley will play in its third. One or both of the programs have also been a part of the championship game in six of the last seven years.

Even as both coaches began postgame film and initial preparation for state, the duo said they touched base three to four times in the first 12 to 16 hours after sub-state.

It’s a culmination of the countless hours the two have spent together reviewing film of each other’s teams, but also pre-planning for different opponents and schemes.

“We’re running ideas by each other all the time,” Applebee said. “To have that and to be able to do that is just a tremendous help to me and I’m sure Brandon would say the same. Good times and bad, we’re able to lean on each other and it’s an awesome thing to have.”

Applebee and the Jaguars faced previously unbeaten and No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas in
the state semifinals this past Friday. A four-yard run in overtime sent them back to the state championship for the first time since 2016 and also ended the Saints’ 22-game winning streak. The programs are both a part of the Eastern Kansas League and have had a bonus meeting in the playoffs each
of the last four years.

“I probably had 50 people run in the locker room [in postgame] and tell me what happened,” Clark said. “… I looked at my phone, and I had text after text telling me how [Mill Valley] did,” Clark said. “Everyone knows we’re close. Our families are close. When I found out they won, I had a huge smile on my face.”

Over the last nine years, they have also been a part of the same Tulsa team padded camps and also made trips to the same 7-on-7 tournaments in Dallas, Texas, and Springdale, Ark.

Much like what has grown in Derby, Clark has watched from afar as Mill Valley has seen a junior football and middle school system flourish over the last nine years.

Applebee spent four years on Clark’s staff (2006-2009) and has kept a close eye on Derby. He has watched his cousin replace nearly half his starters and still extend one of the state’s best streaks in championship appearances.

“You look at what they’ve done this year, it’s unbelievable,” the Mill Valley coach said. “You can tell it starts up front on both sides [of the ball] and it’s what we focus on too. Their offensive line is dominant and their defense flies around. They’re so well-coached and so disciplined.”

Much like Derby has put up two of its biggest wins in the state quarterfinals and semifinals, Mill Valley set its eyes on its best football in the final weeks of the postseason.

“It’s something Derby uses and we preach here and it’s that we want to play our best football in November,” Applebee said. “We’re going to compete
to win every single game, but at the end of the day, we’re going to learn from a win or a loss.”

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