HIGH SCHOOL / JUNIOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Practices begin with little fanfare, but lots of promise

Overcast skies smile on coaches, players in debut week

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If football coaches were asked to each write a script for the weather the first week of practice, very few would include rain, but the terms “overcast” and “unseasonably cool” would probably be in every one of them.

Kilgore College opened its first week of practice for the 2017 season on Sunday afternoon under heavy clouds, with temperatures in the low to mid 80s, a coach’s dream. Many of the area’s high school programs had similar weather on Monday, although a few that started practice in the morning were driven inside by heavy rain.

Initial practices at both KC and at Kilgore were largely uneventful, with both routine and intensity in place.

KC coach J.J. Eckert, about to embark on his 12th season at the helm of the Rangers, spent a lot of time with the offense early-on, on the turf at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium, while defensive coordinator Nick Dobler and returning NJCAA All-American linebacker Troy Burnett and the defensive unit moved over to the grassed practice field next door.

The only thing standing in the way of the Rangers the last two years has been Trinity Valley, including an overtime loss last year in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference title game.

KC will have to wait until Oct. 21 to match up against the Cardinals. But they’re aiming for rival Tyler first – the Apaches visit for the season opener on Saturday, Aug. 26, a rare case of KC opening its season before the high school programs.

Coach Mike Wood’s Kilgore Bulldogs have a clear and defined goal for 2017: three-peat.

The Ragin’ Red have lifted their district’s championship trophy the last two years, and plan to do so again.

The Bulldogs spent their afternoon with meetings and weights in the first portion of practice, then went to the indoor practice facility for what was left, until about 7:45 p.m. They were in shirts, shorts and helmets; pads will become a part of practice on Friday, as is the norm.

Kilgore’s watermelon fest, with the introduction of teams, will be outside the field house on Thursday, Aug. 17, and the first scrimmage of the season will be Friday, Aug. 18 at home against Gilmer. The ‘Dogs visit Hallsville for a scrimmage on Aug. 25, and then open the season at home against Nacogdoches on Sept. 1.

District play starts at home Oct. 6 against Chapel Hill.

Sabine held the first practice of the Rex Sharp era on Monday in the high school’s gym, thanks to heavy rains. Sharp, who is enthusiastic as any first-year coach, assumes the reins from the now-retired Mark Comfort, who guided the Cardinals into the 3A playoffs the last three years.

The Cardinals will practice this week in the mornings, then move to afternoons next Monday. They open their season at Paul Pewitt on Sept. 1. Leverett’s Chapel and its six-man program, coached by Andy Bates, will also be mornings this week, afternoons next, and starts the season at home against Canton Excel on Sept. 1.

West Rusk is holding its practices in the early evenings again this season, preparing for a Sept. 1 game at Winnsboro. And Overton, in the second year under coach Richard Strickland, is getting up early, going to the field house to start at 7 a.m. The Mustangs start the season at Union Grove, also Sept. 1.

Read about all of these programs, and more, in the News Herald’s football preview on Aug. 30.

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