The first Monday in August means the same thing every year in Texas – the first day of high school football practice.
But it means something a little different for each coach and player as each season begins.
China Spring second-year coach Brian Bell said his confidence level has increased from a year ago when he became a first-time head coach at his alma mater.
“At this point last year, I felt like I was swimming,” Bell said. “Have you ever seen, like, a 2-year-old swimming? They kind of go under for a long time and then they come back up and catch some air. That was kind of me last year. I think I’m able to actually keep my head above water right now. Our staff makes my job so much easier too.”
The Cougars start practice on Monday trying to build on a 6-6 season and a two-round foray into the playoffs a year ago.
China Spring joins other Class 4A and smaller schools in starting practice this week. Midway, Waco High, University and other 5A and larger schools who held spring drills will begin practicing on Aug. 12.
Although Bell (28) is young for a head coach, he’s a veteran of many preseason practices with the Cougars. His father, China Spring athletic director Mark Bell, was the school’s head coach for 21 years. Brian Bell played quarterback for his dad and served as a Cougars assistant coach for two seasons.
“This is kind of all I know and this program means so much to me,” Bell said. “I want to have my own spin on certain things and have my own ideas. But, at the same time, China Spring football is China Spring football. I owe it to my dad and I owe it to this community that we’re going to keep things the same as much as possible.”
Elsewhere in Central Texas, Keith Stifflemire is back in the head coach’s seat after 11 seasons as an assistant at Copperas Cove and Gatesville.
Stifflemire, who was the head coach at Evant for seven seasons, was hired this spring to replace Robert Little as Riesel’s athletic director/head football coach. Little took the AD/head football coach job at Taylor in April after leading the Indians to a 10-3 record and the third round of the playoffs last fall.
Now it’s time for a new bunch of Indians to try to build on that success.
“We’ve got a lot of the pieces of the puzzle we’ve got to put together,” Stifflemire said. “Because of the great team they had last year and the great run that Coach Little had, we’ve got a lot of big shoes to fill. We’ve got the kids to do it, we’re just going to have to figure out where all those pieces are going to fit.”
Stifflemire said one major factor in creating a smooth transition could be the fact that his system is very similar to the offensive and defensive schemes that Riesel ran under Little.
So the new coach will have time to take a more deliberate approach to teaching.
“One thing we’re going to do a little bit different is we’re going to go a little slower and make sure we’ve got all the fundamentals before we move on,” Stifflemire said. “At Evant, we were trying to set the world on fire. We put so much in so quick, then we had to go back and do a lot of re-teaching.”
Stifflemire coached at Evant when it was one of the smallest 11-man schools in the state. Shortly after he left to be an assistant coach in Copperas Cove, the Elks moved to six-man. The former Evant coach said, in his first season coaching the Elks, they had 17 players on the first day of practice. While Riesel, in 2A, is in the smallest 11-man classification, the numbers game is different for Stifflemire this time around. He said he’s expecting about 50 players when practice starts on Monday.
Coming off a 10-win season, the Indians players and coaches have some ideas about who will play where. But there will still be a lot of competition during the hot and grueling practices leading up to the first Friday night of action.
“There are a few positions that are locked up we feel like, but there are a whole bunch more that we really can’t make a decision without seeing them going full speed,” Stifflemire said. “Even after the first or second scrimmage we might not even know a lot of them. A lot of question marks right now.”