By Alex Byington

By the Book

"We learn from failure, not from success!" - Professor Van Helsing, from Bram Stoker's "Dracula."

It's a lesson area high school football teams are learning the hard way right now.

Although Van Helsing was referring to the medical profession, the same can certainly be related to the gridiron.

Just over a third of the way through the season, failures have been more prevalent than successes for several Bell County teams.

In between the preseason hype and highlight-reel touchdowns are some mind-boggling turnover numbers (Harker Heights and Salado) and a complete lack of defense (Belton).

But while these three programs have combined for a 1-9 record - with Belton and Salado winless - there is no doubt the season is redeemable, especially with district play kicking off today.

Harker Heights knows all about learning from failure, having ended an 11-game losing streak midway through District 12-5A play last season with a 48-0 victory over sister school Shoemaker. And, after back-to-back losses to Cedar Park Vista Ridge and rival Killeen, the Knights again have a chance to turn their season around with a big win over the Grey Wolves.

While Shoemaker is suffering through its own season-and-a-half losing streak, a victory Saturday could be just the pick-me-up second-year Heights coach Mike Mullins is looking for.

"It's huge because if you sit there and look at the other teams in the district, ... I'm not sure everybody's not pretty even across the board," Mullins said, admitting his team may have "reverted back to old ways."

In a year that began with so much hope following a 24-14 season-opening victory over Georgetown in the Alamodome, the Knights have since looked like they haven't quite learned what it takes to win consistently, thanks to mistakes on offense - like a district-leading 12 turnovers.

Belton, which put together the best defense in District 12-5A last season, has had its insides exposed in back-to-back 60-point losses to Austin High and Waco Midway. Through three games, the Tigers' D has been shredded, surrendering almost 1,500 yards (875 rushing, 590 passing). But with star-studded Texas-bound quarterback David Ash leading the way, there is plenty of reason to believe the preseason district favorites have what it takes to live up to that moniker.

In Salado, where struggles were expected in its first season in 3A, the failures the Eagles have experienced so far were never part of the equation. Because of turnovers, a small and inexperienced offensive line and an inability to run the football, Salado might be in for its first winless season since 2000. If first-year Eagles coach Glenn Talbott hopes to turn things around before facing District 25-3A powers Burnet and Lampasas, it's going to take a much steeper learning curve than most.

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