ARGYLE — There are a lot of new faces in the Argyle football program, but Monday morning brought the same level of excitement to the Eagle fieldhouse as always at this time of year.
The Eagles, who won the Class 3A Division II state championship in December, lost several key players to graduation and had a bit of a new look Monday, the first day when schools who didn’t participate in spring football could practice, per University Interscholastic League rules.
“It’s tremendously fun on this day. I’ve been doing it for 26 years as a coach and I slept good last night, but I was ready when the alarm went off this morning,” Argyle coach Todd Rodgers said. “It’s fun to see the energy in the fieldhouse when you show up.”
One of the few big names from last year’s title team returning is senior running back Nick Ralston, who has committed to Arizona State and rushed for 1,818 yards as a junior.
“I’ve gone through three of these, and I’ve always been the younger kid,” Ralston said. “I’m excited, but I know I have a weight on my shoulders to get these kids ready. I’m excited, and all these kids are excited.”
Most of Argyle’s playmakers from a year ago on both sides of the ball are long gone. That group was highlighted by Texas Tech freshman Ian Sadler, who was named the offensive MVP of the state championship game and finished his senior season with 2,378 all-purpose yards and 38 touchdowns.
Rodgers said he has a solid group of returners who will take over the leadership void left by Sadler and a bevy of defensive talent.
Ralston is joined by four other returning starters on offense, including all-district linemen Matt Hiter and Matt Waggoner and tight end J.C. Chalk, a junior who committed to Clemson over the summer.
“It’s just like it’s always been,” Rodgers said. “It’s their turn to step up and make their contribution as position players and as leaders as the experienced guys that have been to the big show. They know what it takes to get there this time of year as much as they know what it takes to win district games in October and playoff games in November.
“With the graduation last year, there’s obviously lots of areas for kids to contribute.”
Best, Pilot Point ready for tough district
Over the past two seasons, Pilot Point has been in a dogfight in district play, and with February’s realignment, the UIL didn’t do the Bearcats any favors.
After going 7-3 in 2012 and missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker, the Bearcats inched into the postseason a year ago before losing in the first round to Farmersville.
Now, Pilot Point is in a district with Farmersville and four other playoff-caliber teams. The new, six-school District 5-3A (Division I) features Pilot Point along with Farmersville, Callisburg, Van Alstyne and powerhouses Whitesboro and Pottsboro.
“Getting out of district will be a feat in itself,” Pilot Point coach Rob Best said. “That part is going to be tough. We recognize the challenge. We’re looking forward to it. If you’re trying to be good, you want to play the best. I could see a district champ with two losses, at least one.”
The Bearcats have a solid group of returners on both sides of the ball, highlighted by quarterback Travis Garrett and wide receiver DaCoven Bailey on offense, and Lucas Greenwood and John Groff on the defensive line, who each tallied 11 sacks a year ago.
“These freshman kids who are seniors now were my first bunch,” Best said. “To see them matriculate through the system, it’s special in that respect. We expect big things from them.”
Krum continues tradition
Before Krum left its fieldhouse and entered the field and the night early Monday, coach Gary Robinson sensed anxiousness.
The team was set to start the season just after the stroke of midnight for a sixth straight year, wishing to keep the ghosts of last season locked away.
“They were pretty nervous in the locker room before we came out, and I’m kind of laughing at them and asking why they’re so nervous,” Robinson said. “To me that just means they’re ready to go and ready to get started.”
Despite reaching the playoffs last season and losing to Argyle, the eventual Class 3A Division II state champion, Krum was not satisfied.
Krum won only three games last season, a year after it lost just two games. Junior Colten Graham took over for standout quarterback Caz Wojciak, who was dismissed from the team just before the start of the 2013 season.
Graham said the Bobcats worked hard all summer and are anxious to put last season out of their minds.
“It’s time to prove what we’re made of,” Graham said. “Last year was pretty bad. It was not the greatest season. It’s not what we expected. It was rough, but I’m really optimistic about this year. I think we can be pretty good. We just have to put the effort in and work.”
Sanger gets early start
Sanger started the season with a midnight practice for the second straight year and buzzed around Indian Stadium. Coach Chuck Galbreath said he wanted to start 2014 the same way he started 2013, considering how the Indians ended last season.
“Last year was the first year and I really liked it,” Galbreath said about the midnight practice. “We’re excited about football season. I know as a coach, I know I would not have slept much [Sunday] night anyways, so we might as well come out here and get it going. I know the kids liked it.”
Sanger reached the bi-district round of the Class 3A Division I playoffs a year after a winless 2012 season. Galbreath said the Class 4A Indians looked better Monday morning than they did a year ago.
“We did lose a few seniors, not a lot of players, but we have some guys that are going to have to step into those positions and get comfortable being a starter,” Galbreath said. “They came on the field confident tonight. I think that’s going to help us be in better shape.”
Ponder seeks improvement
With one practice under their belts, the Ponder Lions will look to improve upon their 3-7 record last season. Coach Glen Schuelke said he already has noticed several differences.
“We are so much further ahead than we were a year ago,” Schuelke said. “There’s no comparison. I’ve got about 68 kids. The first practice, I thought it went pretty smooth and we got a lot done. It gives us so much more depth than we’re used to. We’re starting to get more and more kids out here. We had a lot of junior and seniors, so we’ll have a good chance of winning. Once you get to that point, you can start winning.”
Schuelke said expectations are clear this year and he hopes the boys basketball team’s Class 2A state title in the spring will transfer to the fall.
“We expect to make the playoffs, and we expect to win at all levels,” Schuelke said. “We want to show that we can win in more than just basketball. The biggest thing is we have kids crossing over. Five out of the 10 [basketball] kids were football kids. The overall atmosphere and attitude are better this year.”
Staff writers Ben Baby and Patrick Hayslip contributed to this report
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.