NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — For the last couple of weeks, Joey Florence has tried to adjust to his new life as the Denton school district athletic director. After 14 years of success as Ryan’s head coach, he’s coming across new firsts in his new position, and Monday was no different.
Florence was in attendance at the biennial UIL realignment Monday morning when the districts were released for the next two academic years, and he was happy to be seeing the chaos from another perspective.
“It’s been different,” Florence said with a smile. “I was a lot more calm than I’ve been in the past. I had a lot of mixed emotions.”
Florence watched as his old school, Ryan, and one of his new schools, Guyer, were paired together after four years apart in the new District 5-6A along with Justin Northwest, Trophy Club Nelson and four Keller ISD schools — Keller, Central, Fossil Ridge and Timber Creek.
“We were anticipating this with the Keller district, and Northwest didn’t surprise us,” Florence said. “I know Keller schools are improving, and it’s a tough district now. Northwest is getting better and Byron Nelson was a good team, too. It’s a tough district, but we think it’s more in line with our size and it’s a better fit for our schools to be over there.”
In the new 5-6A, there are no schools with 3,000 students, and the range of enrollments from smallest (Fossil Ridge) to largest (Northwest) is less than 500 students.
“Guyer wanted this district for all sports,” said Guyer football coach John Walsh, whose team won Class 4A Division I state titles in the previous two seasons. “We just think it gives us a better chance from top to bottom in anything. As far as football goes, we feel like we can play in any district.”
Guyer and Ryan are coming off strong seasons on the gridiron, as the Raiders went four rounds deep before losing to eventual 5A Division II champion Cedar Hill — Ryan’s deepest postseason run as a 5A program.
Ryan was hit hard by graduation, losing 52 seniors, and by the loss of its head coach. Florence said now that he knows where Denton, Guyer and Ryan will be playing for the next two years, he can shift his priority to replacing himself at Ryan.
“The great thing about Ryan is the tradition will carry them, and the program’s goal is still to go win a state championship, and it’s not going to be any different next year,” Florence said. “Next thing is to get a coach in there and get someone in there to go to work — that’s my next priority.”
The Raiders will get to renew a once-fierce rivalry with Guyer after a four-year hiatus.
“I have mixed emotions on that,” Florence said. “I like the rivalry, but it’s tough living in that town. It’s been good for us not to play, I think. We’ve been able to root for each other. We’re looking forward to a good, healthy rivalry, and it will be.”
As for Guyer, the Wildcats return to the state’s largest classification, even if it has a new name. In their previous stint with the state’s largest schools, Guyer won six playoff games in two seasons, including an appearance in the 5A Division II state final in 2010.
Walsh said he’s excited about the opportunity and the challenge of the weekly grind that just was not there for the previous two seasons, when Guyer went undefeated against Class 4A teams.
“We were up there [in 5A] for two years and played in eight playoff games,” Walsh said. “We were successful, but we still have a thorn in our side that we were three points from a state title. So now we’re going to try to go make those three points up.”
Guyer is familiar with its new district foes, and has been in a district with every team in it in one of the past three alignments.
Since 2008, Guyer is 13-2 against its new district opponents, with losses coming to Ryan in 2009 and Keller Central in 2011.
Nelson coach Brian Polk, who played against Guyer the past two seasons in District 5-4A, said staying with the Wildcats gives his program a good measuring stick for the next two years.
“They’re a team that has won it [4A Division I state title] two years in a row now,” Polk said. “They’ve been winning for a while. You want your program to get to that level. You enjoy playing those people and trying to get to that point. We’re not there yet, and that’s where we’re trying to get. They’re there and have some bragging rights coming in, and we’re just trying to get to that level.”
Walsh said he will have to reacclimate himself to the district foes, but that it won’t be too hard considering Ryan and Keller will be the only schools with different head coaches than when Guyer was in a district with them.
“Most of them have the same head coaches,” Walsh said. “I think it’ll take a couple of games to watch on film to get refamiliarized with them, but they won’t be complete strangers, that’s for sure.”