Hal Wason on first day of spring practice

Daily Sun File photo/Ron Farmer

Tigers coach Hal Wasson, seen here on the opening day of spring practice, has brought a young Tiger team a long way since taking over the program in January, and now his team faces opening night against state-ranked Centennia.

It's here, and it arrived in a hurry.

Opening night for Hal Wasson's Tigers is Friday in Burleson, where Corsicana saw its season end a year ago in a second round playoff loss to Centennial's Spartans.

So much has changed for the Tigers, who have been racing to this date since Wasson, a legendary coach who has won everywhere he has been, took over the Tigers in January.

Wasson brought a new look and a different brand of energy and intensity and brought in a number of new assistant coaches who have all been driven since the day they arrived.

The goal isn't just to win the season opener Friday night, but to change the culture and way of life in the football program, to lift it back up to the glory days of old when Corsicana was synonymous with winning football — a name recognized all over Texas.

Wasson has that kind of reputation, and he expects the best from his new team

He also knows it will take time, and has preached from day one about the long road ahead and where he wants the Tigers to be at the end of that road.

No matter what happens Friday night in Elks Stadium in Burleson, Wasson and his plans for this team will still have a long way to go, but Friday is the first step on that road, and the Tigers will take a busload of expectations and optimism with them to Burleson, where they will face what will probably be their toughest team they see in the regular season.

The Spartans are ranked No. 13 in the Class 5A DII state poll, and everyone in Burleson believes this will be that program's best season in the school's history.

And to make things worse, the Spartans run a unique Flexbone offense – a spread-option offense – that is rare and difficult to defend, an offense the Tigers had trouble recognizing and defending a year ago when they lost twice to Centennial.

The Tigers won eight in a row after losing the opener to the Spartans (28-26) a year ago, and finished 9-3 including a 53-31 win over Lake Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. But most of that Tiger team graduated. In fact, the Tigers lost 92 percent of their offense when the entire backfield graduated, and when Wasson showed up to meet his new team, he counted just 32 Tigers who were on the team last spring. He went to work and built the numbers and confidence and will take a new look and new attitude into Friday's game.

He brought a new passion and toughness to the program, and from the first day of spring practice the drills and play on the field had a new intensity, much more physical.

Sophomore quarterback Solomon James, who joined the team when his father, Odell James, was hired in June as the assistant head coach of the Tigers, has looked good in 7-on-7 drills and was impressive in last week's scrimmage against 6A powerhouse Hewitt Midway, but Friday will be his first test under Friday night lights. Tailback Daylan Slade will be in the backfield, and the Tigers will count on Drew Denbow as a running back and receiver as well as receivers Lane Fuentes and Qua Chambers, who had big nights against Midway.

But everything about the Tigers' offense has a new-penny shine to it, from its design and quick passing attack, to the players themselves.  

Tyler Farmer, who has had two monster seasons at linebacker, will lead a young defense against a formidable Spartan offense that returns the entire offensive line and three running backs who rushed for a more than 2,600combined yards. The quarterback is new, but he is quicker than last year's QB.

The Tigers enter the game with a ton of question marks.

“We won't know what we'll know until we know it,” Wasson has said often as he molds his young team.”

He has done an incredible job and admits “this team has improved immensely since the spring,” but quickly adds that “but we still have a long way to go.”

He knows Centennial's offense will present problems, because of the option and deception and rarity it  brings to confuse and deceive opponents.

“What you think you're seeing and what you're getting may be two different things,” Wasson said of playing against the spread-option. “You have to be disciplined on defense. You have to tackle and have to pursue. You have to be a physical and disciplined team. That's what we need to be Friday night.

“It's difficult,” he said. “It's like anything else. You don't see that offense every week, so it's difficult to prepare for. They have a definite strength in their offensive line and in their backfield (because they return everyone).

“What we have to do on offense is that for a chance for us to be successful we have to improve on our consistency. We have to run the ball better and overall be more consistent.”

Wasson knows more opening nights than you can imagine, and he will have his team ready. The Tigers have made big leaps and gigantic strides since he arrived, but know one knows exactly how far they have come and how much will be needed to knock off a state-ranked team that's loaded with experience and confidence.

Wasson can't wait to find out.

“I'm excited,” he said. “I'm excited to coach this team. I'm excited about our staff of coaches. Our assistant coaches have invested a lot into the program. You have to win every day. You have to win Monday, and Tuesday. You have to go out an win every day to be successful.”

The fact is, the Tigers are big underdogs Friday.

“This will be a huge test,” Wasson said. “We're going into a hostel environment, where they (Centennial) have had a lot of success. We have to weather the storm. We've got to batten all the hatches down and be ready.

“We have to focus on the things we can control. We're playing one of the top programs in the state and we to be the best version of what we can be.”

“We're going to find out a lot more about the identity of this team.

Do I think all the questions will be answered, no,” he said. “I feel strongly we will continue to improve as a team and as a program.”

It all starts Friday night.

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