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Grapeland Sandies 2022 Football Preview

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The Grapeland Sandies start their second season under head coach Jordan Wood in a rebuilding phase with only two returning starters on offense and five on defense.

Grapeland started off 2021 by posting a 3-2 non-district record but only managed to win one of its five district games.

The Sandies find themselves in an equally tough district this year after the UIL's realignments. Grapeland is picked to finish last in District 11-2A DI that includes No. 2 Timpson, Joaquin, Garrison, Shelbyville, San Augustine and West Sabine.

Grapeland's 2022 roster includes: Bryson Johnson (0), sophomore; Nick Allen (1), sophomore; Will Smith (2), Traye Babb (3), sophomore; Maleek Johnson (4), freshman; Johnny Lamb (5), senior; Isaac Edwards (7), junior; Jax Vickers (8), junior; Rickey Gilmore (9), sophomore; Omarian Wiley (11), senior; Tae'seann Reece (13), sophomore; Trey Gilmore (14), sophomore; Isaiah Chimal (18), sophomore; Eron Peterson (44), senior; Nick Rea (50), senior; Colton Boehm (51), junior; Orion Green (54), junior; Wyatt Lewis (55), senior; Trinity Miller (58), senior; Jeremy Pierce (62), senior; Casey Morris (72), junior; Jesse Ellington (74), freshman; Justin Ellington (77), junior, and Dusty Lowery (78), junior.

After this week's opener at Frankston, the Sandies will enjoy three straight home games against Lovelady on Sept. 2, Bremond on Sept. 9 and Groveton on Sept. 16. They start district Sept. 23 at Timpson.

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Lovelady Lions 2022 Football Preview

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By Larry Lamb
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LOVELADY — The Lovelady Lions have taken their can-do attitude a step further by adopting the motto “We Will” for the 2022 season.

Head coach Will Kirchhoff credits his grandfather with providing the motto.

“I’ve talked to my grandparents every Wednesday since I was 18 years old. My grandfather coached for many years and he always has little nuggets of advice that he imparts on me, which is neat. Growing up, when he asked you to do something you didn’t tell him you CAN do it. You’d say you WILL do it because that’s part of being responsible,” said Kirchhoff.

Fans may hear the Lions bark their new motto whenever they break out to take the field.

“When we say 'We Will' we're talking about making a commitment to our teammates. We all have worked four years to get the athletic ability and the tools in place to be strong enough and fast enough to get the job done. We’re past the point of being capable and now we will do it,” said Kirchhoff.

The Lions, who return seven starters both ways, are picked to win their new district. Deweyville is the projected runnerup, followed by Evadale, Colmesneil, Hull-Daisetta and Sabine Pass.

Senior Shaun Easterling has been turning heads as a running back the past two years and the Lions are expecting big things from him as signal caller. He is Texas Football’s District Preseason Offensive MVP after receiving back-to-back District Offensive MVP awards and All-State honors. Easterling verbally committed to Lamar University as a running back in July.

“Shaun has made a big name for himself as a running back and that’s still going to be a large part of what we do. Putting him back there is going to give us a little more dimension as far as making everyone honor the quarterback run game. Our running backs are going to be good so they’re going to draw a lot attention. But if you’re not keyed on him the quarterback will get you too,” said the coach. “Shaun never surprises me in what he can do. He’s so far ahead reading defenses and putting balls where he needs to. He’s continually getting better.”

Easterling, a two-time state qualifier in the 110 hurdles, has put on about 20 pounds in the last year, noted Kirchhoff.

“When he went to state as a sophomore he was about 190 pounds and last year he was about 215. He put in the work in the weight room and he’s growing,” added the coach. “He wants to play college football and he knows he has to put on that muscle.”
Running backs Dayvian Skinner and Jordan Blackmon, a pair of 200-plus pounders, will join Easterling in the backfield.

“They’re not just back there because they’re big. They’re both good ball carriers. Having that amount of size behind our O-line is going to be extremely quick and aggressive. Those guys on the line get after it. They’re a unit. We don’t have one dominant lineman on offense and defense but as a unit they’re very good. T

hey’re very tight knit and work their tails off. They take a lot of pride in being linemen, which is the most important position in Lovelady, Texas."
Offensively, the Lions will primarily be in a two-back set with a tight end.

The Lions’ roster is deep with a bevy of running backs and receivers. “We’re fortunate that we have guys we can cycle through and not miss a beat at blocking or catching the ball. That’s going to help us. Even in a game where everybody’s healthy we can cycle those guys through and make sure everybody’s fresh."

Kirchhoff said the starting lineup will vary each week depending on the opponent, but tentative starters are:

Right tackle- Erik Castillo
Right guard- Ben Monk
Center- Tyler Gilchrist
Left guard- Silas Strength
Left tackle- Alvaro Gonzalez
Tight end- Brandon Fry
Quarterback- Shaun Easterling
Running backs- Davian Skinner and Jordan Blackmon
Wide receivers- Skylar Pipkin and J. J. Crawford.

Defensive ends -- Shaun Easterling and Dayvian Skinner.
Defensive tackles- Erik Castillo and Ben Monk
Middle linebacker- Brandon Fry.
Outside linebackers- Landen LeBlanc and Troy Shupak.
Corner backs- Cody Davis and Skylar Pipkin
Safeties – Blake Patrick and Jackson Jeffries.
Dayvian Skinner will handle kickoffs and extra points while Skylar Pipkin takes care of the punting chores.

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Crockett Bulldogs 2022 Football Preview

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By Larry Lamb
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CROCKETT — The Crockett Bulldogs' battle cry for their 2022 campaign is "Lock In."

Head coach Alton Dixon explained, "It means to be focused on what you're doing every day. We're going to be locked in this season and be the best that we can be."

The Bulldogs didn't garner much respect in the district predictions compiled by Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine, which picked them to finish sixth out of seven teams in District 9-3A DI.

Diboll is the projected champion, followed by Woodville, Coldspring-Oakhurst, Shepherd, Palestine Westwood, Crockett and Huntington.

Dixon thinks the Bulldogs should have been placed higher on the list.

"I think we were slighted. God bless anybody who feels differently. We control what we do. As my friend who coaches in Houston always says, 'It's really us versus us.' That's the way you have to view it. What we can control is Monday to Saturday. The work we put in during practice and the work that we display on Friday night. We're going to focus on the things we have to, which is ourselves," said Dixon.

Woodville and Shepherd replaced Trinity and Elkhart in Crockett's district.

"This district is going to be more physical with some really good coaches and really good programs," said Dixon. "The reason for our preconference schedule with strong opponents such as Marlin is to prepare us for a district such as this."

The Bulldogs came up with their own motivational tool. On photo day, some of the players posed with a sledge hammer to symbolize their hard work. "We want to out-work everybody else," said Dixon.

Starting his second season with the Bulldogs, Dixon said, "The kids have bought into the program. We started laying the foundation last year. It's not fully completed but now we're putting in beams and we have the structure that we want. The kids know our expectation and accept how we do things."

Dixon regrets that the Bulldogs' second scrimmage with Malakoff had to be cancelled due to lightning. "We missed out on having a play clock or running clock. We missed having flags thrown for penalties, so we'll have to work through that this week."

Crockett's 28-player varsity roster includes 12 seniors, seven juniors, eight sophomores and one freshman.

Five starters return on both sides of the ball and senior all-district quarterback Jadyn Collins is back to run the offense.

"We have good leadership with guys who have played on Friday nights so we've got good experience as a whole," said Dixon.

"We're somewhat undersized but we've got length and we've got speed, the things Crockett has always been known for. We've got good, solid team speed. We always talk about doing things fast, swarming the football and creating explosive plays with our speed. We want to get our kids in open space and get in one-on-one match-ups to utilize our speed," added Dixon. "We just have to be physical, fast and know what we're doing."

Dixon said the Bulldogs will continue running a spread offense with a one or two-back set.

"The biggest thing is our execution has improved and our football IQ has risen. The kids understand and when kids understand, they play faster," Dixon said.

"We're going to be very simple and very vanilla. We're just going to go out and play football the way it was meant to be played."

Probable starters are:

Quarterback - Jadyn Collins (returning)
Wide Receivers - Dylan Porter, Kaylan Kalra and Ajani Ellis
Slot Receiver - Devin Bedford
Guards - Jim Carruthers (returning) and Blake Jones (returning)
Center -Elijah Taylor (returning)
Tackles - Tristen McGraw (returning) and Courtney Byrd
Running back - Tywoin Delane
H-Backs - Bryson Burton and Corey Simon

Ends - Jim Carruthers (returning) and Tristen McGraw (returning)
Tackles - Courtney Byrd (returning) and Blake Jones
Linebacker - Bryson Burton (returning), Zandric Anderson, Tywoin Delane and Jonathan Lockhart
Safeties - Dylan Porter (returning) and Corey Simon
Cornerbacks - Ajani Ellis and Jahkeim McKnight
Sharing duties kicking and punting duties will be Nathan Morales, Ryan Arvizu and Angel Castillo.
After this week, the Bulldogs will play their next two games on the road against Rusk (Sept. 2) and Buna (Sept. 9). They close out non-district at home with Groesbeck and kick off district Sept. 23 at Shepherd.

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It's showtime

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082522 its show timeCrockett senior Courtney Byrd wields a sledge hammer symbolizing the Bulldogs' blue-collar work ethic. Photo by Larry Lamb

By Larry Lamb
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With their season openers just days away, Houston County's three high school football teams are busy ironing out the wrinkles.
Crockett and Lovelady will enjoy home field advantage while Grapeland starts the season on the road Friday.
Here's a look at this week's matchups:

Crockett Bulldogs vs. Marlin Bulldogs
7:30 p.m. Friday, Driskell Stadium

Marlin rolls into town boasting a No. 4 state ranking in Class 2A DI by Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine.

DCTF notes Marlin emerged as a new force in Region II last year, bursting onto the scene and reaching the class 2A DI state semifinals.
In its preseason outlook, DCTF adds, “The scary part is that they're mostly back and more experienced."

Marlin has eight returning starters on offense and nine on defense from a team that posted an 11-4 record.

Senior wide out Derion Gullette (6-3, 230) was featured as the magazine's class 2A coverboy. Gullette logged 1,458 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns. He also had 150 yards rushing and five touchdowns. On defense, he contributed with 125 tackles.

Marlin quarterback Desmond Woodson threw for 3,636 yards and 38 touchdowns during his sophomore season.

"They have a mindset of winning and they know how to win. They're very fast, very explosive, physical and very well-coached. Their kids know what they're doing and play together," said Crockett head coach Alton Dixon.

"They're going to use their speed to their advantage. It's a challenge all over the field whether it be offense or defense," said Dixon.
Crockett's final scrimmage with Malakoff last Thursday was canceled due to lightning, so the Bulldogs missed an opportunity to see how they would stack up against a No. 7 ranked squad.

This week's game in Driskell Stadium will be the first game played under newly installed LED field lights. "It's more focused on the field and much brighter than the old ones and the new system also has a ball tracker," said Dixon.

Marlin is not fielding a junior varsity, so the JV Bulldogs will travel to Cushing on Thursday for a 5 p.m. contest.

After this week, the Bulldogs will play back-to-back road games against Rusk on Sept. 2 and Buna on Sept. 9. Groesbeck comes to town Sept. 16 for the non-district finale.

Lovelady Lions vs. Groveton Indians
7:30 p.m. Friday, The Lions Den

Coach Will Kirchhoff likes the idea of starting the season with a match-up that provides a playoff atmosphere and the Lovelady-Groveton rivalry always delivers.
“It's always a great game,” said Kirchhoff. “We want every game before we get to district to be as close to a playoff atmosphere as we can get. What makes the Groveton game so unique here is that it's such a big rivalry and it goes back and forth."

Lovelady prevailed 51-30 last year to reclaim bragging rights after dropping the previous two contests to the Indians 36-16 in 2020 and 53-16 in 2019. The Lions won the 2018 encounter 48-6.

“Groveton has a historic program obviously and their kids play very hard. They're going to give you a good look. Scheduling Groveton for Week 1, in my opinion, makes two-a-days better and makes your scrimmages better. There's no waiting to get better. There's a sense of urgency about fixing the problems we might have.

“This is a big game for our community and it's big for our kids. It's always a heck of a ball game, so coming out of the gate against Groveton provides the playoff atmosphere that we're trying to experience. Our ultimate goal is to win a lot of playoff games and have a shot at the state title. I don't believe in waiting for that moment so we'll go ahead and put it Week 1 and get after it. It'll be a good one,” said Kirchhoff.

Groveton is picked to finish fourth in District 12-2A DI, which includes Centerville, Corrigan-Camden, Normangee, West Hardin and Jewett Leon.
New head coach Matthew Woodard, former defensive coordinator at Port Neches-Groves, has six starters returning both ways from last year's Indian squad that finished 1-8.

Next week, the Lions will rekindle a long-running series with county rival Grapeland on the road.

After Iola comes to town Sept. 9, the Lions have back-to-back road games against Normangee on Sept. 16 and Leon on Sept. 23. Lovelady has a bye week before hosting Colmesneil on Oct. 7 for the district opener and homecoming game.

Grapeland Sandies vs. Frankston Indians
7:30 p.m. Friday, Frankston

Grapeland kicks off its season on the road against Frankston, a class 2A DI squad.

The Indians finished fourth in their district last year but had the misfortune of running into Timpson in bi-district.

Frankston (5-6, 3-3) is again picked fourth in district with seven returning starters on both sides of the ball.

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Lovelady shines in preseason outing

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081822 sandie mvpPreseason Offensive MVP — Lovelady senior quarterback Shaun Easterling is the District 12-2A DII Preseason Offensive MVP selected by Texas Football magazine. Photo by Larry Lamb

By Larry Lamb
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Lovelady Lions will wrap up preseason football action on the road against the highly ranked Timpson Bears on Friday.

The junior varsities will start it off at 5 p.m. and the varsities will follow with a 15-play controlled series by the first team offense and defense. The second team offense and defense will follow with a 12-play series. The scrimmage will conclude with two 10-minute quarters.

Timpson, coached by Kerry Therwhanger, is No. 2 in Texas Football magazine’s Class 2A DI Preseason rankings. Timpson went 12-1 last year, losing to Shiner in the state semifinal for the second straight year. Shiner went on to win the state crown and is ranked No. 1 this year.

Looking back at his team's showing last week at Trinity, Lovelady head coach Will Kirchhoff said, “They showed up on both sides of the ball and executed well on both sides. We told them before the scrimmage that the main things we were looking for were effort and 11 folks flying around the football. They did that all the way from the JV to the varsity.

Kirchhoff continued, "It's a great starting point for the year and all the kids across the board exhibited Lovelady football. We've talked all year about starting where we finished last year and I think they're definitely way ahead of where they were at this point last year, which is all we can ask. Like every year, we're going to keep getting better every week..”

The Lions are favored to win the District 11-2A DII championship and are ranked No. 14 in Texas Football’s 2A DII preseason poll.

Commenting on the Lions’ offensive showing in the scrimmage, Kirchhoff said, "We had some technique issues, but the physicality that we've become known for was definitely there. Even though we have quite a few returners we have a bunch of guys in a lot of new spots,"

Senior Shaun Easterling has moved from running back to quarterback this season. "That was his first full-time showing as a quarterback and he did a heck of a job of running the show, just making sure he was under control and controlled the huddle, which is something that is natural to him. He's a natural leader. To have him in that role and see him step into it and not miss a beat is pretty special."

The coach continued, "We ran the ball well, which is what we hang our hat on. The thing that'll surprise a lot of people is you think of Shaun being a running back but at quarterback he can throw the ball a lot better than people think."

Easterling threw a 40-yard touchdown to J.J. Crawford early in the live setting. He's obviously one of the best ball carriers I've ever coached, but he's also one of the most coachable kids I've ever coached. He's going to continue to get better and throw the ball better than people would think and he proved that the other night."

Easterling has been named District 12-2A DII Preseason Offensive MVP by Texas Football.

Easterling has been playing running back and was District Offensive MVP the last two years after being named Newcomer of the Year as a freshman. He received all-state third team and honorable mention as a running back from the Texas Sports Writers Association the last two seasons.

The Lions’ second team offense got on the scoreboard in the controlled setting when Cortavius Whitaker broke a long touchdown run.

"We're a grind-it-out kind of team, so there's nothing too flashy. We strive for consistency as far as being able to get positive yards when it doesn't look like we should and making tough runs, always finishing forward. I'm old school, so highlights to me are those four-yard plays that should have been none,” the coach said.

Kirchhoff added, "As for the rest of the guys, it's just small details that we've got to iron out. But for the most part the physicality was there, which is what we're always working on. Effort across the board was extremely high on both sides of the ball."

"Offensively you've got people working their way all the way down field and never taking a play off. That's what's really going to set us for success later down the road.”
Even the defense got in on the scoring when senior free safety Blake Patrick scored on a pick-six.
Kirchhoff said the Lions had three interceptions forced several fumbles.
Lovelady also converted a pair of two-point conversions.

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