1.Q. After last season’s deep playoff run, what is the mood of the players coming into the season and what are their expectations?
A. Last year was the farthest we’ve gone in the playoffs in team history. They were in uncharted territory last year and they’ve gotten a taste of that success and it has made them have a better off-season. We’ve worked extremely hard in the off-season and everybody has dedicated themselves because they have an investment built into this team. Once you’ve invested in something, it makes you fight that much harder to keep it. We’re going to be a team that people will know about, and everybody is going to be ready to play us. That is just going to make us be ready every game. We can’t have an off game or we’ll get beat. I think their attitude is going to be to 'step up to the next level,' and we have to try to get that tradition built up. Once you get that tradition, it makes you that much harder to beat. Tradition wins a lot of football games.
2.Q. The Tigers have made two consecutive runs to the 7-on-7 State Tournament. How has 7-on-7 helped your program?
A. We had a really good 7-on-7 team last year. It’s an offensive game, mainly for your quarterbacks and receivers. It also gives the defensive backs a chance to play together and get a chance to cover people in space. We throw the ball a lot, so its good practice for us. It’s great for the kids, they like playing it and it really helps us out.
3.Q. You’ve been reunited with new Offensive Coordinator Kelly Gilbert. What does he bring to the team?
A. He and I were together when this offense was developed. It gives us a lot of experience. He’s coming in, not as a new coach, but as a guy who has a lot of experience with the offense, and he's going to be a great asset to our program. He’s a take charge type of guy, plus he knows me and I know him and we know how to play off of each other.
4.Q. What should we expect from senior QB Derek Thompson?
A. I think he came into his own last year as far as reading the defenses, and taking what the defenses give him. I think he’ll continue to improve on that. He has the ability to throw the ball and run the offense, and he’ll take the offense to the next level. He has all of the intangibles that you look for in a quarterback.
5.Q. Other than Thompson, which players, on both sides of the ball, will you be looking at to help lead this team?
A. We have an experienced offensive line coming back, which consists of Garrett Lee, DJ Figueroa, Chris Meaders, Jordan Green and Aaron Hammond, all of which saw significant time last season. We have some of our leading receivers coming back in Ty Taylor, Austin Eschbach and Taylor Nabours, which we will rely on to help carry the offense. On defense, we only have three starters coming back. We’ll look to Jake Powell to help lead the defense this season. Powell has good range, he’s a tall kid with a lot of speed, and he has a lot of mental toughness. We will also rely on Graham Noell and Reagan Rotan to be impact players on defense.
6.Q. Who do you believe will be the biggest surprise players this season?
A. We have a sophomore tailback, Chase Evatt, and two linebackers, Jesus Chavez and Ryan Rathke. Evatt is not very big, but he's a tough, elusive runner with good speed. He also has good hands out of the backfield. Chavez was on JV last year, and he’s a real tough, hard-nosed kid who plays extremely hard. Rathke played some last year on varsity and he’s had a good off-season. He’s a big kid, 6-2, 200, and he’ll bring some experience and also has good intelligence. He makes very few mental mistakes. Also, watch out for safety Shelby Junge. He was on varsity last year as a sophomore, and he’s a real good athlete.
7.Q. What changes, if any, will be made on the defensive side of the ball?
A. Coach Todd Swearengin has been promoted to defensive coordinator and he is going to run a defense that is a little bit different from what we ran last year. Last year we were an odd-man front (3-4), and this year we will run mainly an even-man front (4-3). It fits our personnel a little bit better, with what we have coming back. He’s going to take over and I know that everyone will be aggressive and they’ll be lined up right. They aren’t going to get beat because they're out of position.
8.Q. How do you think the new district will affect you this season?
A. I think it’s a little bit tougher with China Spring coming in because they made it to the (Class 3A Division I) state finals last year. We also have Gatesville who didn’t have that good of a record last year, but they were in an extremely tough district (Waco district). They’re going to be a force. They’re the largest team in the district and they won’t be easy to beat by any means. The other teams, West, Hillsboro and Whitney, should be better than they were last season. I know Hillsboro has a lot of guys coming back, some starters, and Whitney and West are always pretty solid.