Not only are the Glen Rose Tigers picked to repeat as the District 4-4A Division II football champion, they’re rated among the state’s 20 best teams in Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine.
Coach Cliff Watkins’ Tigers were listed as the No. 20 Class 4A Division II team in the state in the magazine’s preseason 2017 issue that recently hit newsstands.
Hillsboro is picked second in Glen Rose’s district by the magazine, followed by Godley and Waxahachie to round out the top four, predicted to make the playoff spots. Venus and Benbrook are picked fifth and sixth, respectively.
For the Tigers, 2017 will be the second season under head coach Cliff Watkins. He led them to an 8-5 season record last season and a perfect 5-0 mark in district.
The Tigers started 0-4 in 2016 before notching eight consecutive wins and making it to the third round of the playoffs. They were eliminated by eventual state runner-up Sweetwater.
“It’s neat to see, for people to look at,” Watkins said of the preseason prognostications.
But, he noted, often the picks are based predominantly on what the teams did the previous season.
He also noted that once the season begins the Tigers will “have a bigger target” on their backs and have to prepare themselves for tough on-field battles because opponents will be more motivated to knock them off.
“Last year we were picked second or third, and we ended up winning it,” Watkins said. “You’ve got to go win it on the field. Every other team sees that, and they want that top spot.”
Watkins expects to have six offensive and five defensive starters back. The Tigers lost 15 lettermen to graduation, but 22 are expected to return.
Watkins indicated that a season like the Tigers had in 2016 produces high expectations, “which is what we want — to have the kids hungry for more and to want to build off last year.”
The Glen Rose 7 on 7 football team recently qualified for the 64-team Class 4A Division II state tournament in College Station. Watkins said that summer work likely helped his team in its early preparation for when the real games begin.
“Seven on 7 was good for us this summer with our new guys in new positions,” Watkins said. “We got better, and we got out of it what we wanted.”
Last year’s junior varsity team finished with a 6-4 season record, but some of the top underclassmen were moved up to the varsity.
“We had a pretty young team on the varsity,” Watkins said. “That JV did a real good job of competing all year long.”
The magazine’s list of Glen Rose “players to watch” includes wide receiver/defensive back Dakota Paschall; wide receiver/defensive back Tyler Torres; defensive back Drayden James; offensive lineman Gage Williams; running back Westen Halcom; defensive lineman Justin Huckabee; tight end Davis Shackelford; defensive end Jess Niedziela; defensive end Keegan Bunt; offensive lineman Jonah Wilson; wide receiver Harrison Hawkins; defensive lineman Tanner Stroud; and defensive back Connor Hansen.
Halcom led Glen Rose’s running backs last year with 772 yards rushing, and scored 13 touchdowns.
Torres had 547 receiving yards and scored six times.
Shackelford, although he was a freshman, had 309 yards and five TDs as a receiver.
Included among the key GRHS graduation losses were all-state lineman Matt Willis, who signed a letter-of-intent to play at Trinity University; linebacker Kully Reynolds, the team’s leading tackler in 2016; quarterback Ethan Hartman, who threw for 3,472 yards and 37 touchdowns last season and is an Angelo State University recruit; and all-around threat Dietrick James, who caught a team-leading 53 passes for 1,209 yards and 11 scores.
Texas schools can have their first day of football conditioning on Aug. 7, followed on Aug. 11 by the first day of contact during practices.
The first preseason scrimmage for the Tigers will be a three-way encounter at Glen Rose as the Tigers take on Stephenville and Gatesville. The JV scrimmage is set for 5 p.m., followed by the varsity at 6:30 p.m.
The regular season begins Sept. 1 when the Tigers play at Grandview.