The goal, this week, was to hit as many teams as I could on Monday before visiting most of the teams on my list for our upcoming high school football preview section that comes out Aug. 30.
Thankfully, my co-workers helped divvy up the list of 64 schools in the Tribune-Herald coverage area. So coaches, if you haven’t received a visit from me yet, there’s a good chance you’ll get a call from one of my colleagues within the next week. I know, get excited.
Here are some quick hits from my travels in talking to coaches and players alike across the area this week.
The Pirates are a bit salty that they were picked to finish second in their district by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine. Keep in mind, this La Vega team hasn’t lost a district game since 2014. That means that no one on this Pirate team has suffered a loss in district play. In 2014, these seniors were eighth graders.
“We expect to win district titles,” senior safety Donta Stuart said. “We’re going to prove them wrong this year.”
The Cadets showed sparks of greatness last season. They just weren’t able to put it all together to earn a district berth. This season, however, Connally is eager to learn from last year as that youthful team is now a year older.
“We have to make sure we’re maintaining that energy every game,” senior RJ Francis said. “Every game, every rep – the success we have starts in practice. We have to keep everything going.
Mart coach Kevin Hoffman was worried last season about his team’s lack of experience. That is no longer a question as it’s been 32 weeks since the Panthers hoisted the state championship trophy at AT&T Stadium in Arlington after topping Refugio for the title.
“They’ve got some experience now,” Hoffman said. “Playing on the biggest stage under the brightest lights, they’ve played a lot of games. This senior class has a lot of games under their belt. Last year we were concerned about experience and depth and some of those things. We’ve got that now. These guys, these seniors, have led this group throughout the offseason and spring and summer.”
The injury bug bit Lorena the first few weeks of last season. And then bit and bit and bit again. By the third game of the year, the Leopards were down to their fourth-string quarterback.
Despite the setbacks, Lorena did advance to the playoffs. Senior safety Cade Michna called the Leopards’ exit in the first round “disappointing.” However, the experience gained from last year can only pay off in 2018.
“We had to deal with a lot of injuries, played a tough schedule,” head coach Ray Biles said. “Late in the season things began to click. That’s where you want them to click. You want to win in October and November, and we did.
“We got in the playoffs. Lot of kids had to grow up. We’re going to have a lot of young kids again this year to step up for some of our seniors who graduated. We’re excited for the opportunity we have.”
Senior center Jacob Burns says they’re cooking something special in China Spring this season. Although, the Cougars might look different than in years past, just because they will be so young.
“I’ve been here the past four years,” Burns said. “It’s definitely the youngest we’ve had so far.”
But being young is no excuse for not putting in work right now. And first-year head coach Brian Bell has China Spring doing just that.
“We are a young team. We do have, our leaders are our old guys,” Bell said. “The younger ones are going to come with effort and challenge the older guys. Practice hard. Good thing about being young is that the future is bright. The expectation then is that there’s no excuse to not be the best we can right now.”
The 2018 season means starting over for the Rockets after they missed out on the playoffs a year ago. But with this fresh start comes a renewed hope, something head coach Tommy Allison has seen plenty of from his team throughout the first week of practice.
“Any time you start over, you’ve got a new vision and a new energy,” Allison said. “The kids are excited and look forward to sort of put the past behind us and look forward. … You have to persevere through tough times. Whether it’s injury or whatever the case may be, that’s life. You have to persevere. If you’re a group that has each other’s backs then you can do that.”
The Trojans are eager to build upon what they did last season when they tied for the district championship and went three rounds deep into the playoffs. With Nathan Gerik back under center and Kain Klish joining him in the backfield, West could go even further this season.
“We got a good group of kids coming back,” Woodard said. “We’ve got some good young kids that we hope can fill some holes of some guys that we lost. Our expectations are high of competing and winning the district championship and making a good run in the playoffs.”
This year’s varsity team will be full of kids who played eighth grade football a year ago. With all of the youth on the sidelines for Marlin, Stephen Hodge has keyed in on the importance of technique.
“In junior high, they didn’t lose a game, so they can play football,” Hodge said. “Now we tell them, it’s not run left and run right. They have to study the technique. One thing we’re pushing this year is technique. To go back to last year, a lot of games that we lost were close games. We lost because the other team was technique sound and we weren’t. We were just trying to out-athlete everybody. This year we’re switching it up.”
Yes, Marc Gutierrez is gone. But the Cubs have plenty of options to take over at running back when the 2018 kicks off in a few weeks.
“We had three really good ones last year, but with Marc (Gutierrez) back there, he got most of the carries,” head coach Chuck Caniford said. “We feel really good about running back with Riley and Alfredo back. Two years ago, Marc went down in the first round. Alfredo came in and ran for 100 yards. We’re really confident in both those young men.”
Judd Thrash doesn’t want any energy vampires in his locker room this season. When he looks back to his time on staff at Lake Travis in 2010 and 2011, the key for both those teams was their positivity.
“We’re going to put pictures in our locker rooms, in our weight room,” Thrash said. “We talk about the guys who are energy vampires suck the life out of the team. We can’t have that. I feel like these guys, from 7-on-7 going to state, no one thought they’d make it.
“They were underdogs. We were picked fifth (in district) last year and made the playoffs. This year we’re picked fifth again. A lot of people don’t know how tight our team is. They don’t know how coachable and how well they execute. We’re going to surprise some people.”
Devin Wilson grinned when he realized the interview wouldn’t be done on camera. He had just had his wisdom teeth removed the day before. Despite being told to wait a week before practicing, Whitney’s quarterback was at the field watching every bit of practice as new head coach Mark Byrd implemented his playbook.
“It’s been very welcoming, more than anything,” Byrd said. “I think the kids are very resilient. They’re excited about change. Coach (Kenneth) Gilchrist did a great job preparing these kids. I will say that they are excited about new air more than anything.”
While the Lions had many great players a year ago, head coach Donnie Osborn said they didn’t have great team chemistry. Just a few days into practice, that’s changed for Teague.
“This group is totally different,” Osborn said. “They’re all on the same page. … We’ve got a great group of kids. We have great team chemistry. We came in in really good shape. I feel like we’re getting a lot done every day. I don’t know how good we’re going to be early. By the end of the year, we’re going to be pretty decent.”
The road to preseason practice started Nov. 6 for the Goats. Already, head coach Steve Hale can see an improvement in his team.
“Now we have to understand why we lost the close games,” Hale said. “We have to figure out why it happens. Most of the time, it’s all mental. The only thing that fixes that is experience. We feel like learning from our failures will add to our successes.”