Grace Community is ready to turn a successful summer into a fantastic fall.

The journey begins Friday with the start of the 2016 season against Waxahachie Life.

The Cougars and Mustangs play in the middle match of the Tyler Football Classic at Bishop Gorman's McCallum Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Grace won the consolation bracket at the state 7-on-7 Division II championships competing against UIL schools over the summer. The Cougars linemen also excelled, winning the TAPPS Lineman Challenge.

This coming after coach Mike Maddox's team set a program record with 10 wins in 2015.

Now with the new season finally here, Grace is ranked No. 4 in the preseason TAPPS poll and opens against one of the largest schools the Cougars have ever played.

Waxahachie Life, formerly known as Red Oak Life, is a Class 4A Division II school with an enrollment of 709 students, more than twice that of Grace (306). The Mustangs went 6-4 last year in 3A Division I.

Grace begins the season with four tough opponents, following Life with Canton, Waskom and Malakoff.

Against the Mustangs, the Cougars will have to contend with size and speed on both sides of the ball, as to be expected when facing a larger school.

"I know they're very, very fast on defense," Maddox said. "They have good size in their forcing unit. Their secondary is very talented, very good athletes."

Grace's passing game against Life's secondary could be the decisive matchup. The Cougars, led by senior quarterback Christopher Wilhelmi and a cadre of talented receivers, averaged 35.8 points per game last year.

"With their size up front, it's going to be a challenge for our run game and with their athletes they've got it's going to be a good matchup (in the secondary)," Maddox said.

On the other side of the ball, the Mustangs are run-oriented but graduated their top ground gainers from last year. Similarly, the Cougars graduated eight starters from their stop unit, which allowed a shade over 15 points per game.

"I think consistency on third downs is going to be a key, coming up with the stops on third down, fourth-and-short," Maddox said.

Grace has opened the season on Thursdays in five of the last six years but with high expectations, the Cougars won't mind waiting an extra day to get the 2016 season underway on a Friday.

"This is the 11th year of the classic; I'm excited about the 11th year to coach the Cougars and to be a part of the classic over at T.K. Gorman," Maddox said. "Their stadium, it's a great place to play, to get back on natural grass.

"We feel like we've worked hard to establish a program and we always want expectations to be a little higher than the year before and we want to work hard every week to meet the expectations that we set for ourselves."



Waxahachie Life Mustangs vs. Grace Community Cougars

What: Tyler Football Classic

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Bishop Gorman's McCallum Stadium

2015 Records:Waxahachie Life - 6-4; Grace - 10-2.



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