Members of the 2018 Glen Rose High School football team already had last year’s season ending to motivate them — and now they have a preseason prediction that could inspire them.
Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine, which hit newsstands last weekend, predicts that coach Cliff Watkins’ Tigers will win the District 4-4A championship. Also, the magazine’s preseason top 20 list features Glen Rose as the 15th-ranked team in the state among all 4A Division II schools.
Following Glen Rose, the magazine predicts Godley (9-3 in 2017) as the runner-up, followed by Hillsboro (3-8) third, Ferris (4-7) fourth and Venus (3-7) fifth. Offseason realignment by the University Interscholastic League took Waxahachie Life and Benbrook out of what had been a six-school district and moved in Ferris to make it a five-team lineup.
Watkins guided the Tigers to a 9-2 mark in 2017, but that strong season ended abruptly with a stunning upset in the first round of the playoffs.
Vernon, which had lost six of its 10 regular-season games and barely made the playoffs, surprised Glen Rose — and everyone else who was paying attention — with a 42-28 victory over the Tigers.
The 2017 district title was the second in a row for Watkins since he was hired to coach the team starting with the 2016 campaign — both times achieving perfect 5-0 marks in league play.
The loss to Vernon in last year’s bi-district round of the playoffs snapped the team’s nine-game win streak. The Tigers had started Watkins’ Tigers debut season in 2016 with four straight losses, but rallied to win eight in a row before falling to eventual state finalist Sweetwater in the third round of the playoffs.
The 2018 version of the Tigers seven returning starters on offense and five on defense among 18 players who are back after earning varsity letters a year ago.
Watkins said the No. 15 preseason ranking in the magazine can be attributed, at least in part, to what the Tigers did in winning 17 games the past two seasons.
“I think our kids have very high expectations, as do our coaches. We need to build off the foundation of the last two years. These guys need to create their own legacy.
“It still reminds us how last year finished. We’ll have a target on our back, but we’re working to be better when August starts.”
Watkins noted that the Tigers completed 7 on 7 play this summer with no injuries. The Tigers qualified for the state tournament in College Station, but were not able to advance to the championship bracket.
Watkins said that 7 on 7 “was going to be important because we have a bunch of new guys in the secondary and at receiver. We saw a lot of improvement. That’s the reason you do (7 on 7), to get better for the fall.”
Among the key pieces of the puzzle Watkins will have back is senior Westen Halcom, who was voted as the Offensive Most Valuable Player by the District 4-4A coaches. The 2018 season will be his third as the team’s starting running back in Watkins’ dangerous spread offense.
Halcom earned honorable mention all-state status from the Associated Press Sports Editors after leading the Tigers in rushing and touchdowns scored. He set all-time school records for rushing yards in a season (1,527), rushing yards in a single game (277), rushing TDs in a game (5), points scored in a game (36) and rushing TDs in a (23).
Also back for another season will be quarterback Cam Griffin, who passed for 2,616 yards and 34 TDs in 2017.
The defense will depend on the experience provided by linebacker Ricky Douglas and end Jess Niedziela. Douglas posted 127 tackles last season, while Niedziela recorded 58 stops and six quarterback sacks.
Niedziela is Texas Football’s pick for the “Preseason Defensive MVP” in District 4-4A Division II.
The defense lost lineman Tanner Stroud to graduation after he also earned all-state honorable mention from the APSE. Stroud was a first-team all-district performer.
Among other Tigers mentioned by Dave Campbell’s magazine as “players to watch” in 2018 are: offensive lineman Hayden Shaw, wide receiver Harrison Hawkins and defensive lineman Keegan Bunt. Niedziela is also listed as a player to watch on offense, at tight end.
In addition to Douglas, the other “top junior” is listed as tight end and linebacker Davis Shackelford.
The magazine also lists “other prospects” for Glen Rose — linebacker Bryan Pounds and defensive lineman River Costello.
While the Tigers are picked 15th in the state, the magazine predicts that West Orange-Stark will win the state championship in 2018. Cuero, Gilmer, Silsbee and Pleasant Grove round of the magazine’s preseason top 5. Pleasant Grove was a 41-21 winner over West Orange-Stark in last year’s state title game.