Salado head coach Glenn Talbott was overjoyed when he heard the Eagles were moving back down to Class 2A after a two-year stint in 3A.
Then he got a look at the new district he was moving into and his smile changed shape real quick.
“I like being in 2A just for numbers, since we’re pretty similar numbers-wise, but then you look at the competition level, and when you (are facing teams that have) played at the state level and the semifinal level, that’s really good football,” Talbott said. “So the task ahead is going to be very, very challenging.”
In the newly formed District 13-2A Division I, Salado joins a fray that includes four returning playoff teams from last season and two defending district champions, including 13-2A’s Lago Vista. The other is usual state power Cameron Yoe, which moves over after winning 12-2A last year, and brings with it the second- and third-place seeds out of that district — Marlin and Little River-Academy — both of whom lost in the bi-district round. Each returns a majority of players.
“Just looking at our district, we have four playoff teams (from last year) and only three are going to go,” Yoemen coach Rick Rhoades said. “It’s got to be the toughest district around.”
The Vikings rode an eight-game win streak that carried them into the Region IV-2A regional round before a 3-point loss to Blanco and returns more than half of a defense that limited teams to 16 points per game a year ago. That’s only a portion of the 22 returning lettermen who are sure to make Lago Vista a district contender once again.
Cameron Yoe is just two years removed from a run to the Division I-2A state title game and returns 16 of 22 starters for a veteran-loaded squad that’s led by all-state nose guard Edgar Luna (140 tackles, 8 sacks last year). On offense, the Yoemen return 1,800-yard junior quarterback Jason Kopriva to lead a usually-potent spread attack.
“When realignment came out, we didn’t come out too well in the trade,” Rhoades joked. “We traded teams that came in last and next to last (in the former 12-2A) for two teams in Lago Vista, who we played in the semifinals two years ago … and then Salado came down and they’ve always been a perennial power in 2A.”
Salado is once again the biggest dog in the yard with an enrollment of 444, just barely ducking under the new 3A level.
But it faces quite a bit of turnover after losing nearly 90-percent of its high-powered passing offense that racked up more than 2,400 yards through the air last year. The Eagles will replace strong-armed transfer Mike Richardson with junior dual-threat quarterback Ryan Simmons, who racked up the most points in 25-3A a year ago as the backup/change-of-pace ‘back.
Then there’s the district’s most talented individual player in Troy’s 1,350-yard fullback Bodazypha Farmer (14 TDs) coming back to lead nine returning starters to an offense that averaged 30 points per game.
But if the Trojans are to challenge for a playoff spot, it’ll take a major improvement to a defense that surrendered nearly 40 points per game in its five losses, including a 54-29 loss to Salado last season.
“It’s going to be a heck of a district,” Talbott said. “In this district, I think everybody can beat everybody week-to-week.”
And then there’s Florence, which is still trying to break its 11-year playoff drought with potential Division I-caliber quarterback Kaleb Hardy (6-foot-4, 190-pounds), who combined for more than 2,400 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. But the Buffaloes face a potential hiccup if they are forced to play the entire season on the road due to harsh water restrictions.