Watkins: No. 11 preseason ranking shows progress

Mark Wilson
Westen Halcom, a record-setting three-year starter at running back for the Glen Rose Tigers who gained more than 2,000 yards last season and was named honorable mention all-state by the Associated Press, is one of several key seniors who were lost to graduation. Halcom is pictured in the season-ending playoff loss to Iowa Park last December.

A No. 11 preseason football ranking can mean many different things.

For Glen Rose head coach Cliff Watkins, first and foremost it indicates that the Tigers’ football program is continuing to progress after three seasons under his leadership. In fact, their 2019 football campaign was the most successful in school history.

The Tigers rolled all the way into the fourth round of the playoffs in 2018. They ended the season at 11-2 when they were edged out by Iowa Park, 31-28, in the 4A Division II state quarterfinal playoff round. The Tigers began that season with a No. 15 preseason ranking from Dave Campbell’s Football.

Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine’s 2019 edition was received by subscribers via mail earlier this week, and Glen Rose was ranked 11th in its preseason top 25 poll. The magazine also picked Glen Rose to win its five-team District 4-4A alignment, followed by Ferris, Godley, Hillsboro and Venus.

Watkins led his Tigers to an 8-5 record in 2016, then improved to 9-2 in his second season at the helm.

The 11-2 overall record in 2018 marked the second straight year that the Tigers have lost only one regular-season game (8-1). They defeated Aubrey, Dalhart and Lubbock Estacado in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

The only regular-season loss, 49-43 to 4A Division I Springtown, was followed by a 70-28 annihilation of Decatur — a team that went on to make it to the 4A Division I state semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Waco La Vega. The Tigers’ game versus Sunnyvale was called off in the opening quarter because of severe stormy weather, and didn’t count as a win. The Tigers were leading Sunnyvale, 28-20.

The 2017 team won its final nine regular-season games, but was surprised with a first-round upset loss to Vernon. In his first season with Glen Rose, Watkins led the Tigers to the third round before bowing out to Sweetwater.

“We’re ready to continue winning, and build on that,” Watkins said. “The senior class has seen the last three groups have the success they’ve had. I know that’s the expectation.”

Watkins took the news of almost being in the state’s top 10 teams in a practical way.

“I think it talks about what the guys have done in the past few years, the success they’ve had,” Watkins said. “I think it’s good recognition for these guys. A lot of it (predictions) is because of the success they had last year.

“They’ve got to realize that puts a bigger target on our back. It’s good for the kids. It’s good for the kids to be recognized, and also they’ve got to recognize what comes with that — and step up to the challenge.”

The 2019 Tigers will feature five offensive and five defensive starters returning from the team that lost only one regular-season game, and earned their third consecutive district crown.

But what really matters for 2019 is putting another good team on the field, seeking to bring the program to an even higher level.

“Now, it’s on this group of seniors (to perform),” Watkins said. “It doesn’t matter where you start — it’s where you finish.”

As for the magazine’s district predictions, Watkins said he wasn’t too surprised.

“I think Godley and Ferris will be really good football teams,” Watkins said. “With Godley and Hillsboro and Venus all having new coaches, it will be an interesting year.”

Watkins said his players seem to be on the right track in the offseason workouts.

“They are really putting in the work they need to,” he said. “These seniors are ready to make their mark.”