The battle begins to dethrone Malakoff between Teague, West and Groesbeck. The Lions return nine offensive starters from their demolishing run game a year ago. The Trojans return their quarterback as well as a solid front seven on the defensive side. The Goats boast a talented defense of their own, especially in the secondary.
Meanwhile, Malakoff welcomes back a solid backfield with a quarterback, Judd Miller, and running back, Braeshawn Williams, who combined for more than 60 touchdowns last season.
While these teams fight for the top spot, they can’t forget about Whitney. The Wildcats are out to prove people wrong this season. Whitney lost only seven lettermen after last season and has a large group of seniors that no one wants to encounter in the playoffs.
- LAST SEASON — 5-6 (4-3)
- RETURNING STARTERS — 7 offensive, 5 defensive
- COACH STEVE HALE — 5-6 at Groesbeck
All-time: 411-451-29 since 1910
Playoff history: 11-14 in 15 trips, most recently 2016; 1 state championships (1991)
Base offense: Multiple
Base defense: 4-2-5
Outlook: There are two things Steve Hale expects from those in his Groesbeck football program daily — effort and attitude. And the head coach saw exactly that in early August. His players had just run a timed mile — most of them sub-six minutes — before taking the field at 7:30 a.m. for a full practice.
“They have to give it their best,” Hale said. “I couldn’t ask for more effort. I saw them come out here after what we call being uncomfortable and I saw a ton of effort.”
Hale wants his players to learn to be uncomfortable. And the ability to cope in that circumstance stems from mental toughness.
“I feel good about where we are with the physical part,” Hale said. “We’ve made some great gains from November to now in the weight room and on the track during track season in the springtime and then in the summer.”
The Goats have plenty back from last year’s playoff team, especially on defense. At linebacker, Brayden Bradley and Landen Frazier return after recording 151 and 117 tackles, respectively. In the secondary, Mike Jones and Ethan Davis provide athleticism after the pair combined for five interceptions and more than 100 tackles.
“We did some things good last year, but we gave up a lot of big plays,” Hale said. “On third-and-long and critical situations we had some major busts. Offensively we can run the football. We have to take our shots down the field, and make those big plays in the passing game when called.”
9/1 at McGregor 7:30
9/8 Bullard 7:30
9/15 at Mexia 7:30
9/29 Eustace 7:30*
10/6 at Malakoff 7:30*
10/13 Palestine Westwood 7:30*
10/20 at West 7:30*
10/27 Teague 7:30*
11/3 at Elkhart 7:30*
11/10 Whitney 7:30*
- LAST SEASON — 10-3 (6-1)
- RETURNING STARTERS — 9 offensive, 5 defensive
- COACH DONNIE OSBORN — 32-6 at Teague
All-time: 427-477-33 since 1914
Playoff history: 8-16, most recently 2016; 0 state championships
Base offense: Spread
Base defense: 4-3
Outlook: Teague has 14 total starters coming back from last year’s regional semifinalist team. This season, the key isn’t found so much in the X’s and O’s, but in a factor that can’t be quantified.
“The biggest thing is we have to make sure every day we are coming together as a group and playing together as one,” coach Donnie Osborn said. “We can have a really talented, really good football team. But if you’re fractured and there’s not a lot of feeling of one, it can be a struggle. Last year, for example, we were a good football team, but we didn’t reach our potential, even though we were getting better each week. If we would have had a different team chemistry, the sky would have been the limit.”
And since practice began in August, the Lions have been hard at work to increase the team chemistry. The coaches mention it every practice.
“You have to bring to their attention that you have to build each other up every day,” Osborn said. “We want to hold each other accountable and all those things, but you have to be constructive in a way where you can’t be on people’s case every time. Every day I pick out a few of them and ask them what they did to help one of their buddies.”
As the X-factor improves day by day, Teague’s foundation seems solid with 24 lettermen returning, including nine offensive starters and five defensive starters. On the defensive end, there are a few players who Osborn didn’t consider starters last year but who played a multitude of snaps.
“It’s awesome,” Osborn said. “We’re pretty athletic on defense. We have been the last three years. This group has a chance to be as athletic or more athletic than any group we’ve had so far.”
9/1 at Madisonville 7:30
9/8 at Mexia 7:30
9/15 vs Dublin (at UMHB) 7:30
9/29 West 7:30*
10/6 at Eustace 7:30*
10/13 at Elkhart 7:30*
10/20 Whitney 7:30*
10/27 at Groesbeck 7:30*
11/3 Malakoff 7:30*
11/10 at Palestine Westwood 7:30*
- LAST SEASON — 5-6 (5-2)
- RETURNING STARTERS — 6 offensive, 5 defensive
- COACH DAVID WOODARD — 24-20 at West
All-time: 432-255-38 since 1920
Playoff history: 11-20-1 in 20 trips, most recently 2016; 0 state championships
Base offense: Multiple spread
Base defense: 3-4
Outlook: As the Trojans prepare to build off their 5-6 playoff season a year ago, the defensive front seven has become the heart and soul of this West team. Defensive linemen Trevor Scott and Zach Schneider combined for 98 tackles, while linebacker Jacob Bates racked up 83 tackles and 10 tackles for losses.
“I love those guys,” West coach David Woodard said. “They get after it. They’re physical and fun to coach. Those guys, to play the way they do, makes for an exciting group of kids to coach.”
Meanwhile, the offense is in good hands with Nathan Gerik back for another season under center after throwing for 1,194 yards and running for 619 yards for a total of 19 touchdowns.
“Having our quarterback back is huge,” Woodard said. “He knows everything. He had a really good year last year after taking over. Being able to have him back and have him understanding a lot more this year than last year is really a big asset for us.”
Behind Gerik’s leadership, Woodard hopes to see his offense more consistent from the start. If the Trojans can do that, Woodard believes it will help them achieve the goals they want to reach this season.
Overall, West returns 21 lettermen, including six offensive starters and five defensive starters from last season. What excites Woodard the most about the 2017 campaign is what he’s seen from the seniors and the leadership they’ve shown so far.
“The excitement they’ve shown to get the season started has been contagious for the other kids,” Woodard said. “For them to be as excited about getting started this year and the success we feel we can have makes for a fun time right now.”
9/1 Rockdale 7:30
9/8 Mart 7:30
9/15 Carrollton Ranchview 7:30
9/29 at Teague 7:30*
10/6 Elkhart 7:30*
10/13 at Whitney 7:30*
10/20 Groesbeck 7:30*
10/27 at Malakoff 7:30*
11/3 Palestine Westwood 7:30*
11/10 at Eustace 7:30*
- LAST SEASON — 3-7 (2-5)
- RETURNING STARTERS — 8 offensive, 7 defensive
- COACH KENNETH GILCHRIST — 35-39 at Whitney
All-time: 317-455-28 since 1921
Playoff history: 11-10 in 10 trips, most recently in 2014; 0 state championships
Base offense: Spread
Base defense: 3-4
Outlook: Whitney’s looking to prove people wrong this season. And that’s not just talk.
When it comes to voluntary weights before the sun comes up, the coaches aren’t having to call kids. Instead, the weight room is already packed.
“I think that’s the chip on their shoulder that they want to prove people wrong,” Whitney coach Kenneth Gilchrist said. “They know it doesn’t come easy. It’s not lip service. They have to put in the work, come early and stay late. They’re doing what it takes to get better. They saw last year’s seniors not advance to the playoffs and they don’t want this season to end like that. They’re trying to help (the seniors) as best they can.”
After earning district newcomer of the year honors, Devin Wilson returns under center for Whitney looking to build off what he did a season ago.
Wilson threw for 2,193 yards and rushed for 1,005 yards for a total of 24 touchdowns.
“It helped him in 7-on-7 this year,” Gilchrist said. “His first time to throw 7-on-7 was entering his freshman year. His first game was against China Spring and he threw 14 or 15 picks that game. It was bad. This year, he threw only two interceptions. He grew in the spring and summer. The weight room was big for him. He put on about 10 pounds of muscle.”
While Wilson has plenty of options to throw the ball to — like receivers Hunter Wilson (743 receiving yards, five touchdowns) and Gage Hightower (360 yards, six touchdowns) — Gilchrist wants to see his squad cut down on the turnovers. On defense, it’s all about improvement.
“Last year was tough on us,” Gilchrist said. “We started a lot of freshmen on both sides, especially on defense. We’ll be better. We have to stop more people than we did last year.”
9/1 at Godley 7:30
9/8 at Academy 7:30
9/15 Hillsboro 7:30
9/29 Malakoff 7:30*
10/6 at Pal. Westwood 7:30*
10/13 West 7:30*
10/20 at Teague 7:30*
10/27 Elkhart 7:30*
11/3 Eustace 7:30*
11/10 at Groesbeck 7:30*