Nothing will come easy in District 8-3A, and teams are preparing for a fight to the finish.
While most are already quite familiar with one another, UIL realignment remodeled the district belonging to Lampasas, Gatesville, Burnet and Llano by removing Taylor and Salado to make room for Brownwood and Gatesville.
According to Gatesville head coach Kyle Cooper, the UIL did not do the coaches any favors.
“Week in, week out, it is just a tough district,” the coach said. “We are going to have to bring our “A” game every week.”
With a combined nine state championships between them, Brownwood and Liberty Hill are the most decorated programs in the six-team district, and there is little doubt both schools with earn playoff berths this season.
The Lions are coming off a regional semifinal appearance and return a total of nine starters, including receiver Cooper Howie, who totaled 432 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 2011.
Brownwood’s biggest advantage, however, can be found on the sideline in head coach Bob Shipley, who led Burnet to a pair of state title games in 2002 and 2003.
Liberty Hill head coach Jerry Vance won consecutive state championships in 2006 and 2007 on the back of a bruising running game, which will be the team’s strong suit again this year.
Four offensive linemen return for the Panthers, and their defense has six returning starters, including linebacker Jacob Dudgeon, defensive back Jadon Boatright and defensive end Jordan Skinner.
While Brownwood and Liberty are expected to finish atop the district, the rest of the teams will be fighting it out for the third and final playoff spot.
Lampasas loses a ton of talent from its district championship team of a year ago. Four 1,000-yard rushers are gone, as is head coach Joey McQueen. Former defensive coordinator Jimmy Randolph takes over the program and will maintain the same primary philosophies.
Although the players are eager to prove they can repeat as district champions, Randolph knows it will be extremely difficult.
“You’ve got to be very good to be lucky enough to get something like that done,” the coach said. “There’s a lot of factors involved, but if we just stay with a day-at-a-time, play-at-a-time mentality, at the end of the year who knows what will happen.”
Gatesville also adds a championship to the district after winning it all in 2000, but the Hornets are coming off a disappointing 4-6 season and must shift their defensive mentality to prepare for the variety of rushing attacks they will encounter.
But with 13 starters returning, including dual-threat quarterback Cole Edmiston (1,123 passing yards, 659 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns), Gatesville should be in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Like Lampasas, Burnet and Llano are both adjusting to new head coaches.
In Kurt Jones’ first year, the Bulldogs finished 4-6 overall and just 1-4 in district. After losing the team’s top passer, rusher and receiver, Burnet returns just four starters on offense and only five on defense.
Llano’s first-year coach Craig Slaughterinherits a team that lost its last nine games of 2011, in addition to losing lots of starters.
Llano’s offense lost eight starters and its defense lost seven, meaning the Yellowjackets will most likely need a lot of time to get on the same page.