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Friday to answer questions, begin 2022

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082522 lion game advance

By Brian Besch
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The 2022 Livingston Lions take the first steps that matter Friday, when Bellaire Episcopal travels to Polk County. There are many unknowns as the season kicks off, like a new Lion offense and several players getting their first varsity snaps. Episcopal is also a bit of an unknown.

Weather has much to do with the questions. Livingston had both of their scrimmages cut short due to lightning, and Episcopal was not able to take part in a second scrimmage.

“We have a general idea about them, just like they do about us,” Lion coach Finis Vanover said. “We both have a little film on each other and we both have each other’s Vidor game from last year. We have that and about 20 plays of scrimmage film from this year. It will truly be a big-play performance on the field, with who can break something. Special teams is really going to weigh into it.

“We have some of what they played against Sealy (in a scrimmage). That is a good, quality program with some of the same type of athletes that we have. The preparation for them had to be very similar. They are a spread, true to the book, just like we faced last week. Needville (the Lions’ second game) comes up the same way, unless they just totally changed.”

The coach was happy to get the small amount of plays that he did last week against Hardin-Jefferson. The Hawks are a spread team, just as many on the schedule will run. Episcopal on the other hand, was not able to get off the bus last week.

“They’ve got a great quarterback that transferred in from the Fort Bend schools,” Vanover said. “That is what you get with the larger, more established parochial schools in the Greater Houston area. They do a good job of recruiting and have open enrollment. He is a fine quarterback and a tall, rangy kid. They will have some big plays with their offense with picks and rolls, and playing basketball on grass.”

Facing a similar offense in the scrimmage, the coach was pleased with his defense’s performance on all but a few plays. Missed assignments and missed tackles were responsible for large gainers. Tackling in the secondary will be key, as the Lions hope to keep the offense in front of them and having to earn points on long drives.

In the run game, expect to see plenty of zone read option from the Knights, while wide receiver screens and bubble screens will be an extension of that.
“They have a defensive end that is really noticeable,” the coach said, shifting to defense. “He is a good player as a rush end that likes to come after you. They have a sound secondary, and are identical to what we saw last week on the front. It is an odd-man front with a 50-type defense. We’ll see a nose tackle. Their tackles are more like ends in our scheme and their defensive ends are like our linebackers, where one of them is rushing and the other is in coverage. They are always going to stay in a cover four with two safeties and two corners. They will drop some people, doing some underneath stuff. They have very good footwork and technique in the secondary.”

Coach Steve Leisz has been at the program since 2007. The past two years have not been the best, going 5-10 in shortened seasons due to Covid. However, the Knights were a combined 64-17-1 over an impressive eight-year stretch before.

For Livingston, a ball control offense looking to grind out yards on the ground will likely be key for a passing game that is not established.
Jakob St. Martin will start at quarterback and provides a running threat himself. The Lions have no shortage of running backs, at around eight and able to shuttle a new one each down, if they so desired.

“If there’s anyone who deserves a chance to move into a limelight spot, it’s Jakob St. Martin. For two years, he’s been the quintessential understudy. He played receiver and caught a few balls and did a little mop up duty (at quarterback), but every time he did, something special happened. He came in as quarterback and made two or three unbelievable runs, dipping and darting.”

The coach said he couldn’t be more happy or proud or a player that he is of St. Martin. He praised the quarterback’s work ethic over the spring and offseason to ready himself for Friday.

Similarly, the staff feels good about its offensive line. There are also around eight in that position group ready to go for the first game. Most all players will be expected to go both ways, but Livingston has hopes that many of the big guys on offense can play exclusively on that side of the ball.
Look for a freshman or two to play varsity games immediately. There is some need on the field, but Vanover said he has some ninth graders that will be too talented to keep off the roster. The same will be the case for several sophomores. Many of the underclassmen have challenged juniors and seniors for starting roles and Vanover expects that to continue through the non-district schedule.

The Lion secondary is young and will be tested early in the first two non-district games, with Episcopal and Needville both running a spread concept. While maybe not ideal, the coach likes the opportunity for his inexperienced defensive backs to see plenty of action in preparation for the remainder of the season.

“I think it is what we need. It is the only way we are going to get better. They have got to get after it. We can’t hide them; we are a man-to-man team. They are not big or physical type guys or bone crushers when they tackle, but they need to get on a guy and hang on. They’ve got great feet, hips and leaping ability. That is why they are back there. I think it’ll be great preparation. I think we did really well against Hardin-Jefferson. They are quick learners, but we just can’t wait too long to learn. We have to exhibit our knowledge and not let them score three or four before they do.”

The Lions will begin to find answers on Friday. Those answers should indicate whether this year’s team more resembles the district champions of 2020 or the disappointment of missing the postseason in 2021.

“This is going to be a fun team to coach. There will be some frustrations and some growing pains. I may be cue ball bald by the end of the season, pulling what little hair I have out, but, they are fun and I wouldn’t trade them. We are really close and having a good time together, and they are fun to be around. They listen and do what is expected.”

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Lion cubs key to success in 2022

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082122 lion fb preview teamSee complete section of the 2022 Football Peview in the Aug. 21 issue.

By Brian Besch
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Dealing with success hasn’t been a big problem over the history of Livingston Lion football. When the 2021 season began, there were high expectations that never came to fruition.

The Lions followed their first district title in 57 years with a disappointing 1-4 district mark. They were competitive in the final two losses that knocked them from playoff contention, but struggled with an offense that only scored more than 15 points once in league play. Injuries and other factors were a hindrance for a group that was 4-1 in non-district, but the team is ready to put all of it in the rearview mirror.

With a new quarterback and key positions without varsity experience, Livingston could have a different look that relies on its ground game to set up the pass. There is talent in the offensive line and at running back, and Livingston head coach Finis Vanover appreciates a good rushing attack.

“Offensively, we have had a quarterback for three years,” Vanover said. “We’ve had an established bunch at receiver that we really didn’t have to reteach, we just kept adding and polishing. Without that trigger guy and those cats that you know what you have at receiver, we don’t know.

“We’ve got lots of open positions with a large senior class for us last year of 17. But, we turn around this year and we have 25. Those are good signs. A lot of those that left were a lot more than just 17, because a lot of them were two-way starters or filled in at three or four positions with the way we shuffle people in and out and use specialty roles. A kid like Julian Gardner was four positions. We either have to find another four-position guy or two guys that can do two things. We’ve got a good group returning and a lot of them had playing time of some nature and there were some starts involved. Right now, the best thing we have going is the competition for all the available spots. We’ve got some fun competition going, especially with our sophomores. We have a great sophomore class and they are really talented.”

The coach said 17 of his sophomores took part in the first varsity scrimmage versus Silsbee. The promising youth have even pushed some of the seniors for the opportunity to start.

“That is what competition is all about. It brings something out in everybody – good and bad. It is the first time with 104 kids that we are able to do that now. Even as long as those juniors and seniors have been with us, we’ve got a sophomore class that is blessed with natural talent and they have been with us three years now through junior high and the freshman team. They are going to figure into the formula, some from the very get-go and others possibly as the season progresses. We’ve got three or four freshmen that can do the same thing. Two for sure right now are probably running second levels. If the kid is talented enough, get your tickets, because you’re going to watch your son play.”

Vanover said his quarterback situation is a triumvirate of competitors with a senior, sophomore and freshman in contention. Jakob St. Martin has seen some limited time under center in varsity games. Vanover said he has put time into workouts and been a leader, earning respect of his teammates. Demorian Hill impressed coaches over the summer with his work, and move-in Tyler Soza is in Livingston from Canyon Lake. Soza’s father will be part of the coaching staff and Vanover bragged on the freshman, citing his 52-second 400 meters as an eighth grader.

Zach Williams was primed to be a back with plenty of carries in the 2021 season before breaking an ankle in the first scrimmage. Vanover says he has had an impressive training camp. Landon Leggett and Connor Starr will figure in as both fullbacks and big backs in short yardage situations. Caleb Cormier figures to play flanker, but could also line up in the backfield in certain packages. He is touted as one of the fastest at Livingston High. Sean Martin will be lined up similarly. Brayden Ethier will have comparable responsibilities to Starr and Leggett, but coaches love his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Jaron James is another of the sophomores that could line up at fullback or tailback.

“Our running backs, we have a bevy of them,” Vanover said. “We have a couple of returners and a couple of good ones in there, but that sophomore bunch is really figuring into the defensive back situation (where many of the running backs cross train). They are all multiple position guys and highly skilled.”

Chevy Peters, Cormier and Javean Gardner lead the wideouts, and the Lions will feature plenty of tight ends, with a few that have moved to the position. Reese Henderson adds to his duties at linebacker by playing on the end of the offensive line, as does Bradley Tullos, who slides down from a tackle spot. Rory Williams and Nick Smith should also see playing time at tight end.

On the offensive line, defensive star Zaylon Bogany will plug in at a guard spot and Bryce Stiegler will try to shake injuries to return as a starter. Xavier Mendiola and Jonathon McNeal will also open holes up front for the Lions.

“They are kind of the lead dogs in the thing, but we have a bunch of them that will get a ton of playing time as backups and as backup D-lineman. They are really accepting the challenge and getting a bond together. Cam Wright and Trey Atkinson and Eli Steagall are some others that we are looking to step up. We are going to try to keep eight in that group that don’t have to start both ways, except Bogany – he can play all night long. Stiegler can do the same thing.”

082122 lion fb preview twoHead coach Finis Vanover. Landon Leggett hopes to impact the offense and defense as a senior.Defensive coordinator Dalton Murray.

Much of the Livingston defense will be the same as it has in previous years under coordinator Dalton Murray. The Lions run a 4-2-5 base defense that plays a lot of man-to-man with a free safety roaming up top. When offensive coordinators develop any sort of comfort, Murray can change into several different packages that include a 6-1, 4-3, 3-4 and 40 front.

During the first scrimmage, Silsbee coaches commented on how hard the Lion defenders hit. Murray says that is by design.

“Our kids, they love tackling,” he said. “We hit hard and that is what we practice every day. You play like you practice, so if you practice timid and practice slow, you are going to play slow. We don’t play like that.”
Everything on the mean green defense this season will start on the defensive line. The front promises to be one of the better Livingston has seen, with experience and award winners sprinkled throughout.

“We have a three-year vet on there with Zaylon Bogany, who has been our starting nose tackle for three years,” Murray said. “He is one of the baddest ones in our district. We have several others on the line that have been through it, like Stiegler, who has played defensive line for three years. He is mainly an offensive lineman, but his junior year, he played more defensive line and was definitely a big help last year at defensive end. Nick Smith is at defensive end and Xavier Mendiola is down there at tackle. We also bring up some new guys from our JV squad that were quality there. Talon Atkinson and Jace Morris are coming up and going to be just fine with Brady Ganzer and Jacob Noonan. We have several to pick from and they do a good job.”

Murray said the defensive backs were his youngest group last year, but opponents didn’t start to figure that out until later in the season.

“This year, our focus has been to make that more solid. We have a lot more competition there this year, so it’s become a lot more productive. They are coming along and it is going to be good – a lot better than it was last year.”

Some of the returners include St. Martin, Gardner and Cormier. Murray is excited about the quick reaction time from Cormier, who is back from injury. Dylan Murphy is a junior and sophomores Deandre Walker, Sean Martin and Trenden Williams will be in the mix.

The coach said his defensive backfield train at both cornerback and safety, allowing for a breather at each position or in case injury occurs. St. Martin and Gardner are likely to get the first looks at free safety once the lights come on for Fridays.

“As the season goes on, I have to see who is the better read. If he can read the quarterback and the run game, and also get involved in the passing game, that will be the one I start.”
Leggett and Starr have been multiple-year starters for the Lions and should form a formidable second level again.

Starr was a first team all-district linebacker last year, while Leggett took honorable mention. At outside linebacker, Williams is fast and aggressive, while Henderson enters after playing defensive line last year. Murray says he has shed many pounds, gained some speed, but kept all the aggression of a defensive end. Trent Quinn and Caden Vickery return as contributors, as does JV standout Ethier. Jarius Randolph is a big-bodied linebacker, who Murray says has potential.

“We’ve got more linebackers this year than we have ever had. It is developing and getting where we want it, but so are the rest of our spots. We are coming along and everybody is getting it. Everybody understands what is supposed to be happening inside the coaching staff and in the players’ locker room. We are starting to get that buy in, but it is year five now and it is about time.

“The back end, when we won our district championship, our best players were our DBs. We graduated them and went through some growing pains, and now we have some in there who are seasoned, but we are throwing them into the fire. Last year, they got to get their taste of what it was like to play varsity football and they struggled a little bit. But, they have a year in them and they have handled it fair.

“With our interior, our defense alignment and our linebackers, I feel like we are picking up where we left off and a few that are better in certain spots. The DBs, I feel like we are already ahead of where we ended last year. I feel like this team has better potential to finish the year out better than we did last year.”

Expect to see even more blitzing from the defense as the coverage gets its feet under them. That is saying a lot for a team that likes to come after the quarterback. However, the coach says if his unit is operating as it should, it has the appearance of blitzing on most every down.

082122 lion fb preview threeThere is room for another few pictures on the wall of champions at DeWalt Field House.

“We can play with anybody,” Murray said. “There is a lot of parity in this district and no one is just head and shoulders above one another. It is going to be an interesting year to see how it all goes. Everybody has been in the district at least two years.”

Prognosticators have performed poorly the past few years when predicting the district’s final standings. The Lions have been on extreme ends of the spectrum the past three years, going from worst to first, then next to last.

“We are not browbeating them with it, but we are damn sure reminding them of it,” Vanover said of last season’s record. “We went from district champions to 1-4. That is a total collapse. We had a couple of guys that got hurt and the folks that were supposed to step up did not do it.

“Right now, Lumberton and Little Cypress are the lead dogs. There is no question about it. Little Cypress went to the state semifinals and they are legit. They have a lot of transfers and a lot of kids who are doing a good job. Lumberton is just loaded. They have numbers and they are so big. Everybody is chasing them.”
The head coach said he sees Livingston competing with Vidor, Huffman and Splendora for two playoff spots. He is intrigued by the transformation Livingston football will receive in 2022.

“I like this team. I feel like we have a chance of being good in a different way from what we have been,” Vanover said. “We’ve got to get a new face and a new personality and blend it in with a bunch of the old stuff. I think we are very capable. We are way ahead defensively, with as good of a defense as we have ever had in August.

“Every team is different in some form or fashion, but we didn’t have a lot of changes the past three years because it was a lot of the same kids. That is what I am so excited about right now. If there is any way possible I can keep the sophomore bunch as a group and not have to break them up on the JV, I will do it. I just don’t know if we can, because they are so much better than some of the juniors and seniors we’ve got out there. They are going to have to play. It is hard to say right now what the identity of the team is going to be. It is going to be a different style of team with a lot more running, motion and misdirection. We’ve got to go with what we’ve got.”

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Old ‘Dogs learning new tricks

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082522 corrigan fbteam previewSee complete section of the 2022 Football Peview in the Aug. 21 issue.

By Brian Besch

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While they aren’t lining up for the early bird special, Corrigan-Camden football is running a senior program in 2022. Of the 30 players on the football roster, 21 are playing their final year of high school ball.

It is a luxury that Coach Brett Ratliff talks about with a smile. It’s understandable, especially after a trying couple of seasons since returning home. Covid and a late start cut into the potential of the first season in 2020. Injuries slowed a promising start last year, though the team showed grit in reaching the postseason in a 6-5 season and an even 3-3 in district.

They now drop down a classification and have a veteran group that knows the system.

“We are senior heavy. We have 21 seniors on a 2A Div. 1 football team,” Ratliff said. “That is pretty impressive. I attribute that to how hard the kids work and how excited they are about the program. I also attribute that to when they were sophomores and we didn’t do as well as we needed. They took their lumps and they wanted to stick with it and go harder. Here we are.”

The Bulldog offense will continue as it has the first two years under Ratliff. The pro-style attack leans heavily on the option, with a few backs and a tight end mainly. There are times when a few more receivers will get on the field at the same time.

“I am a counterpuncher offensively,” Ratliff said. “We will try to impose our will on certain things and in certain plays. But, based on what the defense is giving us and where their real strengths are, we are going to try to counterbalance that.

“I am not an offense- or defense-of-the-week guy, with based on what they do, I can do this. We are so multiple in our pro style, I have a lot of things in that toolbox that I can pull out when I need to. I think that puts a little bit more on (our kids) when they start out with the offense. That is why I think we were kind of slow moving my first year two years ago. It is a lot to put in and the slower you install it, the less you have in your toolbox. We are at that point now where we have a lot of those things and have repped them very well. I feel quite comfortable in whatever we line up in that we are going to do it successfully.”

The offense has nine starters returning this year, but even that is a misleading number. The two positions with “new” starters – left guard and fullback – have plenty of experience.

“The sky is the limit and I told them that they can’t play for the home run every play. Our kids have had that mentality. I want them to want that, but I want them to be satisfied and not be upset with a 6-yard gain.

“Right now, we have as much installed as we probably did through Week 6 last year already. They retained a lot and they’ve all got so much playing time and I think they feel comfortable with what we’re doing. We have to clean up some mistakes and fine tune our technique. With athletic football teams, you tend to rely on athletic ability and don’t focus on technique as much. If we are athletes that have technique, we are really good. They are dogs and they want to go eat.”

Corrigan-Camden is in an enviable position at quarterback, with three who are capable of playing the position. Headlining that group is a four-year starter in Christian Guzman. A displaced vertebrae cut his season short in 2021, but he has returned and is ready to lead this season, according to coaches.

“He is my team leader and there is a reason why he has started all four years at Corrigan-Camden. He is one of the better players I have ever coached from a poise perspective. He never gets rattled, he never gets upset, and he never gets too high. He can throw for 200 and rush for 200 and he is excited, but he is not excitable. He can go in and get sacked three times in a row and comes to the sidelines as the same guy. You don’t get that with a lot of football players, and I love that about him.”

082122 corrigan fb preview twoDefensive coordinator Amaro Villareal. Christian Guzman is back for his senior season. Head coach Brett Ratliff

Ratliff said he has never put a red jersey on a quarterback, but considered making hits on the signal caller off limits with Guzman. However, the senior let coaches know that he was ready for full contact. It didn’t take long for him to prove it, making a big hit on a Buffalo running back in a scrimmage while playing free safety.
As much as he is needed at quarterback, Guzman may have more value on the defensive side. To that point, don’t be surprised to see one or even two others take snaps behind center for a breather.

JaVarion Williams may take a snap at every skill position on the field in 2022. Quarterback won’t be an exception.
“He’s going to play receiver one play, he’s going to play tailback, he can play fullback and he can play quarterback. If I wanted him to play center, he could play center. He comes in as my runner at quarterback, but he does have a strong enough arm to do that if I need.”

Speaking of strong enough arm, Morgan Rayburn stepped in after the Guzman injury as a passer for the Bulldogs. He is described as a game manager and pocket passer.

“I don’t have to think about calling plays for specific kids. Obviously, they have specific strengths, but they know it all, so I can run it all. In my head coaching career, I’ve never had three really good potentials at quarterback. All three are seniors.”

Anthony Harrell will be the starter at tailback. Harrell’s father and Ratliff go back to high school days at Corrigan-Camden. Following in his footsteps, Harrell’s father was a 3,000-yard rusher and the 3A offensive MVP in Texas.
“Anthony is a good running back. He is smart, he is savvy, and he catches the ball really well out of the backfield. He is going to split time with JaVarion, but when he is not a tailback, he is at receiver for me. I kind of mix and match those guys.”

One of the few on the team that is not a senior, junior Maddox Murphy, will also see time at running back.
Williams will start the game at wide receiver on most nights. Tony Cooper will be split wide as well. Cooper is a tall possession receiver with sticky hands. Rayburn is another receiver that has some size and can block or catch. Ayden Sowders caught a long touchdown pass in the scrimmage. Twins Bayden and Bryce Lawrence will also see the field there.

Kam Wyatt and Rayburn will be Bulldog tight ends. Jarius Hood caught a touchdown pass at fullback toward the end of the 2021 season, and Kadyn Burke will help him at fullback when needed.

The line has size on the ends and is a group that should know each other well. Angel Escobedo has good feet and anchors the line from his left tackle position. At 6-foot-1 and 290 pounds, he is likely to displace many defensive ends this year. At left guard will be Wesley Smith, and at center is Ethan Pullin. Both are able to move and get to the next level. At right guard will be Nathan Blalock and right tackle is Jonathan Cook Jr., another large body on the end.

The Bulldog defense gave up an average of 16.8 points a game in district play if you take out the last regular season contest versus Newton. Those numbers balloon when the game versus those Eagles and playoff match with Waskom are included.
Defensive coordinator Amaro Villareal said there is a concentration on producing turnovers this season.
Corrigan Camden’s 4-3 defense plays a lot of quarters and halves, making teams earn points when they get them on long drives.
“We try to keep everything in front of us and make people really work,” Villareal said. “If they want to stretch the field, we have athletes that can match that. We take pride in causing those 12- or 14-play drives. We eliminate the explosive plays.

“I am really blessed. Defensively, we have nine of the 11 coming back that were starters. I am replacing a cornerback and a defensive end. If you know us, our corners get rotated in periodically, so I really don’t have starters. We have guys that are versatile. You might start the game at one position, but the next series I might bring a corner in (shifting personnel in the secondary). I think our strength is our back end, because they have all played varsity. They all have 12 to 15 games under their belt.”

The defensive line will be one of the few areas with youth. Villareal expects to be good up front at end. The defensive tackles will borrow a bit from the offensive line, as most schools at the 2A level.

“We have Wesley Smith there and he is an all-district kid. Then, we have Morgan Rayburn, and he is a second team (all-district) guy. We are versatile up there and we can move into a 4-3 and a 50 front as well. Right now, we are looking at Ricky Inguanzo, Jonathan Cook and Angel Escobedo. Aden Stanley is another. Him and Ricky have been starting with Cook coming in. I am also looking at a couple of kids on the JV that could help.”

Burke, an honorable mention all-state standout last season, returns to lead the linebackers. Villareal calls Burke “the heartbeat of the defense,” who makes sure everyone is lined up properly. Nathan Blalock and Heath Davis are battling it out for a starting spot, while Murphy should also figure in on the defense’s second level.

Offenses will need to game plan carefully when throwing the ball on Corrigan-Camden. The secondary has plenty of playmakers that can change a game in one snap.

“I’ve got JaVarion who is all-state,” the defensive coordinator said. “Getting Christian Guzman back is huge at safety. Those two back there are dynamite, because they feed off of each other. They cover really well. We have Anthony Harrell back there and Tony Cooper out there. Those guys have a lot of experience. The twins, Bayden and Bryce, those guys have played a lot. We have Kam Wyatt, a new kid that has moved in and is picking it up tremendously. If we need to run man, we can run man with all of those guys.”

The coach says he trusts his defense now, and loves the communication and the way the back end will callcoverages. He tells a story of how the defense will check into a different coverage that leads to an interception. With an expression of how excited he is to coach the group, Villareal admits that they have come a long way.

“It has taken some time, but we are in year three. The kids even want to know if we can play a little more man to man, or play press and bump and run. We can do those things now because we know the concepts of what we are trying to do. I think seven-on-seven has helped a huge amount in our coverages and now they know route concepts. They are seeing it and learning it, and now they are ready to reap the benefits.”

The coaching staff knows this is the season. There is a confidence when they speak about the potential. Corrigan-Camden football lost some of its identity a few years ago when a streak of over two decades in the playoffs was snapped. After putting their toe in the postseason water last year, the team could make a splash in 2022.
“This is the year,” Ratliff said. “Year three is the one that you own it. I tell anybody that gets into the profession, the first two years you are trying to get your stuff like you want it, trying to get your culture built and trying to get kids to buy in to what you’re doing. If things are going great, you helped create that. If things aren’t going as well, you have to look at what you need to fix. It’s our program, and they’ve been with me in high school longer than they’ve been with any other coach. Now it’s ours; I feel real confident in that.”

Highlights of the schedule is a big non-district slate that would resemble a team still in Class 3A. Centerville is a defending district champion and one of the area’s best rivalries returns for the first time since 2015 with Groveton in the Battle of 287.

“We are going to play one of the better teams in the region (Centerville) in our district and they were quarterfinalists last year,” Ratliff said. “They are good and they are well coached. It is fun to play against those guys. Our non-district is no slouch. We’ve got some athletic teams and we did that on purpose, especially once we knew our numbers were probably low enough to come down. We wanted to play 3A, and even big 3A. Last year, I thought we were better than we finished. I thought we should have finished second in district last year or third.

“It is one of those situations this year where everything is like what we want. We know there’s going to be adversity down the road – there always is – but, I think we are very well prepared to handle it. We have seen it and faced it, so we know how to slay that dragon. There is definitely a different feeling when you walk into the locker room. The kids have a different mindset. The seniors, being 21 of them, they are leading very well. They want it bad.”

082122 corrigan fb preview threeThe message is clear when Corrigan-Camden steps on the practice field.

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McInnis back with Big Sandy

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082122 baseball coach

By Brian Besch
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Big Sandy hired a familiar face in Will McInnis for its head baseball coach vacancy over the summer.

McInnis lives in Spurger and has had a previous stop in Big Sandy as head coach from 2009 to 2011. McInnis also headed the West Sabine program, when the Tigers advanced to the state tournament in 2008 and finished as state semifinalists. Last year, he guided Colmesneil to the playoffs. 

McInnis said it was the people at Big Sandy that made his decision for change an easy one.

“Coach (Kevin) Foster called me and asked me if I wanted to come over and be the head coach,” McInnis said. “What drew me over here was the administration, because I knew Coach Foster was the athletic director and Coach (Eric) Carpenter was the superintendent. He was my athletic director before and I absolutely loved it. The draw was with the people I would be working for.”

The Wildcats lost around seven starters, but the new coach cited some promising prospects as reason for hope.

We scrimmaged them last year and they were pretty salty and pretty solid,” he said. “It is a rebuilding season and we’ve lost seven starters, but the kids that are coming up are pretty solid too. I spoke to them and there are some role players there that I think will be really effective for us.

“I saw some of the kids play last year and I know what kind of talent they bring to the table. I am really excited to have a chance to coach those kids.”

With so many new faces on the 2023 version of Wildcat baseball, a change in philosophy may have come at the right time.
“We are going to play a lot of small ball. There will be a lot of bunting guys over to get to our big batters. Then, if we get a guy on first and third, we are going to try to score that guy on third. We will do a lot of safety squeezes, like (former Longhorn coach) Augie Garrido from Texas.

“There were some good bats last year and there was some really good pitching last year as well. One of my slogans is to put the ball in play and good things will happen.”

Even with the many changes, McInnis doesn’t feel the Wildcats will take long to be competitive. Last year the team was an area finalist, beating Iola in the first round at Willis.

“I believe we are (a playoff team) right now. I think we can compete with Evadale for the top spot, I really do. We finished fourth in our district and made the playoffs in Colmesneil and we had a pretty rough district with West Sabine. I think we can be contenders for the top spot.”

Also mentioned was West Hardin as a possible contender in the district.

McInnis will start the school year off as the head cross country coach, while also teaching physical education and U.S. history. 

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Taking on big schools

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081122 bulldog volleyballSarah Downey sets up a teammate for the spike. Tangela Yates flips the ball back over.The Lady Bulldogs celebrate the wining point Tuesday over Shepherd. Photos by Brian Besch

By Brian Besch
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The Corrigan-Camden Lady Dogs picked up their fourth win of the volleyball season Tuesday night at home over Shepherd, taking the final three sets. The 23-25, 25-18, 25-11, and 25-20 was competitive for the majority of the match.

After a deficit of 5-0, Shepherd tied the first set at nine and thecontest remained close until the Lady Pirates secured the two-point win. The roles were reversed in the second, when Shepherd took an early lead and Corrigan prevailed.

The third set was the only of the night that was not close, as the Lady Dogs took a commanding 17-3 advantage before winning comfortably.

“We got a little sleepy at the beginning,” Corrigan-Camden coach Sage Gardner said. “It was finally getting in the groove of it and coming back.”

Only a few players are back from the 2021 playoff squad. Carrie Burris, Kathryn Fisher, and Addison Garcia absorbed plenty of playing time last year. However, the rest of the team is fairly new to the varsity game. Two freshmen, Allonah Foss and Brissa Pablo, have spots in the starting lineup.

“Like any freshmen, they are going to make little freshman mistakes, but they are playing their hearts out for me right now,” Gardner said.

“We are kind of senior-heavy in a sense, but we are super new at the bottom. We are learning to gel together and learning to trust each other.”

Corrigan-Camden opened the season by welcoming Class 5A Porter, with the Lady Dogs making the last set very competitive. The competition was on the same level in the latest tournament. Traveling to Central Heights, bracket play versus Leon, Tatum, Nacogdoches, Arp, Timpson and Crawford made for an extremely difficult couple of days.

“I told the girls that I want the toughest competition in non-district. We are trying to get some tough ones to prepare for district, so it looks a little easier then.”

The Lady Bulldogs beat Nacogdoches, then Elysian Fields the next day.

The tournament ended with games versus Arp for the second time and Westfield. The team is now 4-7. The only Class 2A schools they have seen to this point is Timpson and perennial power Leon.

Shepherd has also dropped in classification, now in Class 3A, where they will have the new experience of being the big fish in a small pond. To compound the positives, the volleyball program has seen an increase in participants this year.

“I think our seniors right now are carrying the team,” Lady Pirate coach Sarah Evans said. “We have about eight seniors, with seven on varsity right now. It is kind of hard working them in on different spots, but they are stepping up to different positions, which is all I can ask for as a coach. I’ve got another senior who has really never been a setter and she is over here setting. Just working with a new setter – because we graduated three – everybody is stepping into those new roles as a senior and that is tough.”

Grace Ramos, Kortlyn Goodson, Tangela Yates and Kaylee Barlow were among the Lady Pirates making plays Tuesday.
In two scrimmages, Shepherd has scheduled Livingston and Woodville.

Colmesneil was the first regular season game, where the coach said her team looked good, but out of place a bit. She likes the energy on the court currently and believes her team is having fun for the first time. They have taken victories over Woodville and Colmesneil so far.

“The season as a whole, I think we have more energy and more outlook,” Evans said. “We are positive. We think that we are going to win and we know that we can compete to the end. Whether we are successful, we don’t know yet. But, we go all out and I like that. I am happy that we are dropping down to 3A, because it finally gives us a chance to compete. We are coming to fight. For the first time, we have numbers.

We had so many that we had to do cuts this year. It’s impressive, the growth within the program, and I’m excited to see where we go from here.”

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