In February, the University Interscholastic League realigned the high schools in Texas for the next two years. The changes saw the return of Temple and Waco to the state’s largest classification and created the largest district the Killeen area has seen.
Changes in the schedule come along with offseason transitions in coaches and staff for a couple schools. With a shorter pre-district season and longer league run ahead, the six local Class 6A coaches aren’t making excuses; they know that this year is about adapting.
The new District 12-6A will also include former 8-6A teams Killeen, Ellison, Shoemaker, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove, Belton and Waco Midway.
Not only are there two new schools to make up the nine-team district but there are two new local head coaches at Ellison and Cove.
Following the 2017 season, former Ellison head coach Trent Gregory announced his retirement. The Eagles are now led by Todd Wright, who spent last year leading Houston Waltrip.
Longtime Copperas Cove head coach Jack Welch announced his sudden retirement in May. Cove brought in Jack Alvarez from Ennis to lead the Bulldawgs this year.
Waco also announced its new coach at the end of July, welcoming former University of Texas receiver Kwame Cavil.
Wright and Alvarez both have experience navigating a team through a nine-team district.
For the last couple years, Waltrip was also in a nine-school league.
“I’ve done it before,” Alvarez said of his experience. “It’s brutal.
“It was tough week-in and week-out. When you come out of a nine-team district, if you’re not overly beat up, then it prepares you for the playoffs.”
The long district grind is new territory for the remaining area schools.
“The district was already tough, but it got a lot more tough,” said Killeen head coach Neil Searcy. “But it’s the old Killeen district with Waco and Temple.
“It’ll make for some very exciting football in District 12-6A and renew some old rivalries while creating new rivalries.”
“We and Temple have a longstanding rivalry,” Belton head coach Sam Skidmore said.
“(Killeen) and Temple just go after it, and Waco High’s been in the district, so I just think it brings a lot of old rivalries back and keeps people interested.”
Another factor in the district season is the luck of the draw for the bye. The odd number of teams means one school will be idle each week.
“We’ve had the same bye week for the last two years,” Harker Heights head coach Jerry Edwards said. “So, it’s not going to be any different for the coaches or staff; it’s a good thing.
“Sometimes your bye week is part of your schedule, and wherever it falls, you just adapt and overcome.”
The Knights have a Week 10 bye, the next to last weekend of the regular season.
“Some people view it as a negative; we tend to view it as a positive,” Edwards said. “We get to play nine games in consistent roll, and then we have one game and, hopefully, we’re in the playoff picture.
“And then we can use that time to rest, recover and get ready for a playoff run.”
Across town, Shoemaker head coach Toby Foreman is happy with an early Week 3 bye.
“As a head coach, I’ve never lost a game coming off a bye week,” Foreman noted. “Some people don’t like having the bye that early, but I’m fine with having it that early because it gives me that week to concentrate on fundamentals.”
Last year, the Grey Wolves had a bye at the end of the season.
“That was tough because we never got a break last year,” Foreman said. “Going through 10 games in a row, a lot of NFL teams don’t do that, so it was difficult because you couldn’t step back, catch our breath and get it together.”
The Kangaroos had drawn the bye in the first week of district the last two years and avoided the “dreaded Week 11 bye.” Searcy is fine with the Week 9 bye this season.
Skidmore is also content with where the Tigers drew their bye, “Ours is at a pretty good time, midpoint of the season.
“It’s always nice to get our kids recharged.”
Ellison drew the Week 11 bye, but that didn’t worry Wright because he’s been there before.
“Two years ago was the first time I ever had a Week 11 as my day off,” he explained. “Then I walked in here and Week 11 is our off day, so I’ve worked through working through 10 straight and then your off date is at the end.
“You don’t have as much time to prepare in your preseason, so I’ve worked through those things as far as how fast you have to work through here and then you have to be careful of how much you put in.”
Alvarez and the Bulldawgs’ schedule has Week 8 as their bye.
Despite the large district schedule, none of the coaches have changed the way in which they prepared for the upcoming season.
“Our preparation has kind of been the same,” Searcy noted. “The number of district opponents doesn’t really change our work schedule, the only this is we play district earlier.”
Change is scary but sometimes change can be a good thing.
“Changes in the district, I think it’s going to be very exciting,” Skidmore said of the new additions. “I think it’s going to make the district more competitive.
“Our district is notorious for anybody beating anyone any given night. It’s very competitive and you never know what’s going to happen any given night, so I think it’s going to be real exciting.”