Don’t look now, but we’re a little more than a week away from the start of high school football practice for seven of the eight teams in the Golden Circle.
Corsicana, the only school in the county that has spring football, begins summer drills on Aug. 12, but everybody else in the Golden Circle will be on the field Aug. 5, just 10 days from now.
And as the first days of football begin there are plenty of questions hovering over the upcoming season.
Start with Rice, where the biggest question is simple: How do you replace tailback Dee Robinson?
It’s probably impossible to find another running back who will produce like Robinson did at Rice, where he had back-to-back seasons of 2,000-plus yards on the ground and rushed for more than 5,700 yards in his career.
It’s going to be a while before the Bulldogs see another running back like Robinson, who broke out his sophomore year and carried the ball and the offense for three consecutive seasons.
The Rice faithful can trust that coach Andy Mills will find enough rushing yards to keep his offense going, and there’s little doubt the Bulldogs will make up for some of those lost Robinson yards with an improved passing game as QB Tanner Carlisle steps up in his third year as a starting and the return of Elizhah Nezar changes the dynamic on Friday night at Rice. Nezar is one of the top athletes in the Golden Circle on the basketball court and on the football field, and after missing last season he’s back as one of the top defensive backs and wide receivers in the GC.
Mills said the way his Bulldogs will replace Robinson is with Nezar, even though Nezar won’t be lining up at tailback.
Nezar will have an impact and you can bet Mills, who has led the Bulldogs to the playoffs every year since he arrived at Rice, will have his team back in the postseason again.
There are plenty of questions around the GC and two of them are at Rice’s biggest rivals: Mildred and Blooming Grove.
That’s because both schools have new coaches.
Duke Dalton takes over at Mildred and brings a ton of experience and a lot of fire to a program that is rebuilding and trying to bounce back from a 3-6 season.
The Eagles’ biggest problem the last two years is simple: They were devastated by injuries, but there’s no question that if they stay healthy Dalton will have this team on the rise.
There are more answers than questions for the Eagles, who are going to see their numbers go up this season and also see the return of Creed Baker at quarterback.
Baker took over at quarterback two years ago as a sophomore when Wesley Huitt (the best player in the district) was lost for the season with a broken foot in the district opener).
Baker stepped in and stepped up and led the Eagles to the playoffs, but he sat out last season. His return alone has the fans at Mildred excited about a new season and a fresh start.
Blooming Grove also has a new coach in Ervin “Cheeseburger” Chandler, who is fired up with his first job as a head coach.
Chandler has plenty of experience as an assistant coach and he was a star lineman at Ennis for Sam Harrell’s first great team, the one that reached the state title game and started the Harrell dynasty that includes three state championship teams.
“We’re not going to throw the ball like Ennis, but we are going to throw the ball,” Chandler said.
BG’s Lions have the guy to do that in QB Carson Rucks, who will be one of the leaders for a Lions team that will have to try to replace Stephen Carroll and John Shaw, who both were outstanding receivers and big time defensive players at the Grove.
The Lions were 5-5 last year and Chandler wants to improve on that in his first season at BG. He’s got a lot of confidence and even more energy.
The biggest questions on the south end of the Golden Circle are how far can Dawson and Hubbard go this year.
Dawson coach Ronnie Striplin has done an amazing job since taking over the program two years ago and has changed the culture in the program, where the Bulldogs are now a confident, winning team that made huge strides a year ago by reaching the playoffs and look to make another big move this year.
Striplin’s kids know they belong in the postseason. The only question is how far will they go.
Coach Russell Anderson returns a lot of talent at Hubbard, including quarterback Logan Morris, who led a junior-packed team to the playoffs, and made as much impact as a defender as he did throwing and running the ball.
Hubbard was young and talented a year ago. Now the Jags are a year older and even more talented ...