Tyler Junior College football coach Danny Palmer takes pride in how many East Texans play for the Apaches.
In 2007 — Palmer’s first recruiting class — the coach had the Tyler Paper take a photo of all the new Apaches from the area. A sign in the middle stated, “There’s No Place Like Home.”
The Apaches will open the 2011 season Saturday at home with 32 players from East Texas — from as close as Robert E. Lee and John Tyler to as far as Lufkin.
“I think that’s what Tyler Junior College is about,” Palmer said. “Our band has a lot of local kids. I think it makes a difference in your talent level because there is good talent in East Texas. They are coached well in East Texas. There seems to be a little bit more stability in the home … than a kid from the Metroplex area. We recruit kids from Dallas and Houston and we (also) like the East Texas area. It fits Tyler Junior College.”
Local players will be all over the field — primarily on defense — when the Apaches begin anew against No. 15 Coffeyville (Kan.) at 7 p.m. at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
TJC’s East Texas starters will be sophomore left guard Thomas Lacy (Robert E. Lee), freshman running back Ryan Young (Sulphur Springs), freshman receiver Jalen Claiborne (Carthage), sophomore defensive end Jacoby Alexander (Van), sophomore defensive end Reggie Taylor (Lee), sophomore defensive tackle Pat Howard (Lee), freshman cornerback Duke Wheeler (John Tyler), sophomore cornerback DeKerrian Cooper (Chapel Hill), sophomore strong safety Justin Jones (Jacksonville) and sophomore weak safety Billy Thompkins (John Tyler).
The Apaches will field primarily a young team against traditional power Coffeyville, which defeated TJC 27-10 in the 2010 opener in Kansas.
Four key players are suspended for the first two games of the season for violating TJC policy, Palmer said. They are transfer quarterback Tyrik Rollison, sophomore cornerback Richard Lyles, sophomore linebacker Rikko Harris and sophomore offensive lineman Hunter Hogan. They, too, are East Texans.
“It hasn’t changed anything,” Palmer said. “We haven’t taken anything out of our game plan offensively or defensively, we’ve just had some freshmen to get more reps.
“We started day one doing that. We were aware of the situation and they’ve responded well. It will be a young team but they won’t be a young team by the time we play Navarro (Sept. 17 in the conference opener in Corsicana).”
With Rollison out, true freshmen Randy Price (Waco University) and left-hander Ryan Black (Jacksonville) will play quarterback for the Apaches. Price, who went through spring football at TJC, will get the start.
“We will have a package for each quarterback,” Palmer said. “Randy Price can handle the football in the running game and the play action real well. He’s not as effective a runner as Ryan Black.”
TJC should be strong in the defensive front, secondary and at receiver.
“I’m concerned about our linebacker play,” Palmer said. “There will be inexperienced linebackers playing until we get Rikko Harris back for the conference opener.”
The offensive line also concerns Palmer, where the most familiar names starting out are sophomore right guard Brock Wempa (Royse City) and Lacy at left guard.
State champion Pearland will have two starters on the offensive line — Derek Hoffpauir at center and Daniel Weiskopf-Davila at right tackle.
Wheeler, a transfer from Central Arkansas, joined the Apaches last week and the timing was perfect.
“It came at the right time because of CJ Johnson’s (ankle) injury,” Palmer said. “He can play other positions, too — strong safety and weak safety. He’s a very good tackler. He’s what we’re hoping will be a shutdown corner.”
SMOKE SIGNALS: TJC’s coaching staff includes Ryan Mahon, associate head coach; Robert Mahon, defensive backs; Russell Thompson, defensive coordinator; and graduate assistants Price Ferguson, Peter Hopkins and Anthony Lewis. … Thompson, a Jacksonville native, came over from rival Kilgore College where he was defensive coordinator. … Lewis and Ferguson played at Texas A&M.