Steve Hoffman didn’t blink.
Didn’t hesitate. Didn’t clear his throat.
Didn’t need to.
“Crucial,’’ Hoffman said. “It’s crucial.’’
That’s how Hoffman described what two-a-days meant to his Corsicana Tigers, who will be at Tiger Stadium at 6:30 a.m. Monday to take the first steps of the 2013 football season.
They’re here — Two-a-days are here. They show up Monday in all their heat and glory. High school football teams all over Texas begin practice. Everybody is unbeaten. Everybody is headed for the state title.
You can cut the optimism with a knife.
Each of the nine teams in the Golden Circle start anew with their own unique set of problems and their own set of stars and dreamers — but everyone has the same dream.
For Hoffman, who was hired in April to head one of the most tradition-rich programs in Texas, the summer practices are “crucial.’’
“I came in late (in April) but the kids have been great. They have bought into what we want to do. But they still have a lot to learn and we didn’t have a full off-season,’’ Hoffman said. “And it will be our first time to be seeing them in pads. You have an idea what a kid can do, but you don’t know until you see them in pads.’’
Hoffman wants a physical team and a smart team. His kids have to be. He runs a lot of formations, and his offense will be a unique hybrid — part spread and part Wing-T.
He wants to throw the ball, but he also loves the run.
“It’s a new system for these kids,’’ said Hoffman, who had Corsicana playing in a 7-on-7 league this summer for the first time in years. His 7-on-7 team had a chance to run some of his new offense and the team finished second in the Teague league. Corsicana’s linemen, who will be led by center Chris Jones, who started as a sophomore when Corsicana went to the state semifinals, won the Big Man competition this summer.
Everyone is anxious to see the return of quarterback Devontay Bell, who was out for most of last year with a torn ACL. Bell is back, and he’s running 4.5 40s these days. Nobody want to get back on the field and win more than he does, and every player on both sides of the line feels like this is going to be a big year at Corsicana.
“It seems like it couldn’t get here fast enough,’’ senior defensive end Donavon Hailey said. “We’re ready for two-days. We’re ready for a big year.’’
Billy Dan Chambliess, who has been Mildred’s defensive coordinator for five years, takes over as the head coach, and can’t wait for his first two-a-days as the head man.
He knows he has to replace a ton of talent, including QB Nic Shimonek, who led Mildred to the Class 2A state title game a year ago. Texas Football magazine picked Mildred to reach the Final Four. But Chambliess would rather have high expectations than none at all. It’s the price of success.
Will Burnham, a sophomore who played for Mildred’s 7-on-7 team this summer, takes over at quarterback and running back Draylon Sterling, who rushed for 1,948 yards as a junior, is back to carry the ball and a lot of the load for Mildred.
“We like to stay in the spread and the 4-3 on defense,’’ Chambliess said. “But at the 2A level, you kind of have to adapt to the kids you have.’’
He believes Burnham will be just fine as the new QB.
“There’s going to be some peaks and valleys,’’ he said. “But he’s only as good as the offensive line and that’s what we’re focusing on.’’
He knows Sterling, who plays both ways and was the Daily Sun’s Golden Circle Defensive Player of the Year last season, brings a lot to the table, but Chambliess wants even more from his senior.
“He is a (a real good player),’’ Chambliess said. “He has to step up and show more leadership.’’
Chambliess, who is also Mildred’s athletic director, has been busy all summer hiring new coaches, and said he can’t wait to get on the field.
He hired four coaches and a trainer, and hired the final two positions earlier this week.
He hired Austin Hall (assistant football, assistant basketball and assistant baseball), Tony Aguilar (assistant football, assistant track) Erin Glasco (girls junior high volleyball, basketball and assistant softball) and Courtney Shaw (girls junior high volleyball, basketball and track) and he hired Jessica Pfannstiel as a trainer.
“It’s been a busy summer,’’ Chambliess said. “I will be so happy when Monday comes around and we are on the field.’’
It has already been a remarkable summer in Hubbard, and two-a-days should just be the result of what makes coach Craig Horn even more optimistic about having a remarkable season.
“The senior leadership is going to be huge for us,’’ Horn said. “They worked really hard this summer. They beat (state power) Mart in 7-on-7 and they ran the 7-on-7 team themselves.’’
Usually there are parents and adults running 7-on-7 teams, but the Hubbard kids did it themselves. They organized the team, competed and looked good doing it, and had only one non-high school player help with the coaching — Cole Hill, a former Hubbard QB who graduated two years ago.
“They ran their own practices, organized the team and competed,’’ Horn said. “They took the bull by the horns. This group of seniors is phenomenal.
“They’re probably the best group of seniors I’ve been around since I’ve been a head coach,’’ said Horn, who has been a head coach for sex years, including three at Hubbard. “They were proactive. They did it.’’
The Jaguars went 4-0 in district and 8-3 overall, and are looking for even a bigger season this year. Trey Henderson, who rushed for 1,390 yards, and Casen Martin, who passed for 950, are both back as well as linebacker Jordan Johnson, who made 110 tackles last year.
All three are part of a senior class that has already made a statement this summer.
It’s a new day and new season at Rice, where Jerry Baldridge begins his second season as the head coach.
“Personally, for me the biggest difference this year is just knowing the kids,’’ Baldridge said. “Last year I didn’t know what to expect athletically or as far as their work ethic goes. I found out real fast that our kids work hard. Getting to work with the kids for a full year in other sports and as the athletic director and getting to know them personally and having a relationship with them, it’s totally different this year.’’
And it’s different on the field.
“We have a better understanding of what they can and can’t do,’’ he said. “We have a better idea of where to put our kids in a position to where they can be successful.’’
Baldridge sees a difference in the way his players are approaching the season.
“These kids are chomping at the bit,’’ he said. “There’s just a lot of energy. I would say the No. 1 thing is the kids were excited all summer. They have been in and out of the fieldhouse all summer and working hard all summer, and they’ve been telling us how they are looking forward to the season.’’
They’re pretty excited at Blooming Grove, and for good reason.
“The big thing for our kids is that the expectations are real high,’’ Blooming Grove coach Gary Grubbs said. “Last year was our first winning season in 15 years. They expect to win now.’’
“We had a great offseason,’’ Grubbs said. “The kids are excited and worked hard.’’
Blooming Grove will have to replace quarterback Jayd Kirby, an all-Golden Circle first team QB who threw for 1,414 yards and ran for 1,577 more and combined for 23 TDs.
But the Lions are confident in Tyler Ellis, who did a little of everything as a sophomore last year. He was an all-state honorable mention at kicker, and also played receiver (13-314) and defensive back.
Grubbs knows the mentality has changed and that’s what his kids will bring to two-days on Monday.
They are so pumped up at Wortham they can’t wait to get on the field — they literally can’t wait.
“We’re having Midnight Madness,’’ said Wortham coach Shane Doege, whose team will take the field at 12:01 a.m. “We’re not going to waste a second. We want to be working while others are sleeping.’’
Doege, who is in his second year as the Wortham coach, is looking forward to a big season in a program that made giant strides a year ago.
“There is a stronger sense of where we belong in the football landscape after making the playoffs for the first time in eight years,’’ he said. “I’ve had kids drop by the house this summer. Last year was exciting for them and it has carried over. It’s eve n more exciting for them now.’’
The feeling is like that all over Wortham.
“The coaches and the kids are excited,’’ he said. “We’re ready to put the key in the ignition and ready to drive.’’
It’s just a matter of finding out what kind of car they’re driving.
“We will see when the smoke clears,’’ Doege said. “It could be a Porsche. We don’t want it to end up being a Pinto.’’
Doege hits the light switch at 12:01 for what could be called two-a-nights.
“We did it last year,’’ he said. “When I went to the superintendent to get permission to do it, he thought I was crazy. But the kids really enjoyed it and we’re going to do it again.’’
They won’t start after midnight at Frost, but after having a season no one will ever forget, the Polar Bears will go back to evening workouts in August — just like they did a year ago.
They have two-days, but wait until 6 p.m. to take the field. The kids loved the idea last year, and it set the tone for Frost’s deep run in the playoffs and 12-win season.
“You better believe we’re starting at 6 o’clock in the evening again,’’ Frost coach Eric Blenden. “We have a couple of kids who work to help feed their families and I don’t make them choose between that and football. And the kids liked the (evening) practices last year.’’
Frost has to replace Daniel Steels, the Daily Sun’s Community National Bank & Trust of Texas male Athlete of the Year, Jacob Stroder and a ton of talented seniors. Steels, the Golden Circle Mike Montfort Offensive MVP, rushed for 1,878 yards and 29 TDs and Stroder, who was the Golden Circle Dick Gibbs co-Leadership Award winner, passed for 817 yards and had eight interceptions on defense.
“Last year we had to replace one person,’’ Blenden said. “This year we’ve got to replace the running back spot, the quarterback spot and one lineman spot. There’s not going to be a Daniel Steels or a Jason Stroder. It’s finding the kids to put in there. That’s when you know you have a good program,’’
Frost brings back 19 lettermen, including seven starters on each side of the ball, and this senior class could be the best in Frost history.
Robert Worley, who gained more than 1,200 yards and Woody Woods, who gained 750, will be the bread-and-butter backs, and Zach Terry should take over at quarterback.
The Frost kids know he expectations will be higher than ever after last year.
“We know there won’t be any sneaking up on anybody,’’ Blenden said. “There’s a difference when you are a 5-5 team (from the year before) and a 12-2 team.’’
They will be ready for two-days at Kerens.
They’re always ready.
“We have high expectations at Kerens every year,’’ said coach Russell Anderson, who is in his seventh year as the head coach of the Bobcats. “We have nine back on defense and six back on offense, and we have all our skill players back.’’
The Bobcats bring back junior Nate Betts, an electric quarterback who rushed for 1,288 yards and threw for 1,022 yards and combined for 23 touchdowns as a sophomore and a load of talent all over the field.
“We had a really good offseason,’’ Anderson said. “We’re looking forward to the season.’’
Steve Hoffman didn’t blink.
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