HALLSVILLE — John Tyler plays for pay starting today with the District 14-4A football opener.
The Lions look to earn a gold ball for the third consecutive year after capturing the district title outright last season and splitting it three ways the previous campaign in District 11-5A.
JT (0-3) enters the affair winless, with Hallsville (1-2) one of only three schools in the eight-team district with a victory to its credit.
“It’s a whole new mindset for our kids. Now it counts; it’s money time,” JT head coach Dereck Rush said. “This is what you go through offseason for. Our No. 1 goal is always to win a district championship and No. 2, if possible, a state championship. Our first goal is attainable, without a doubt.”
JT gauged itself against four 5As prior to district, two currently ranked in the top 10 (No. 4 DeSoto in a scrimmage, No. 10 Longview), and another in Lufkin who spent two weeks in the poll.
Hallsville scheduled its share of ranked opponents, albeit a level down. Chapel Hill, the top-ranked team in 3A, defeated Hallsville 29-22 last week. Lindale, ranked No. 8 in Class 3A, topped Hallsville 25-12 the week before. Hallsville opened the season with a 41-10 win over Pleasant Grove, another 3A school.
After scrimmaging DeSoto, the Lions led all three non-district foes, including Robert E. Lee, during the second half before wearing down late.
The Lions, who struggled finishing drives and stopping the run during non-district, finished the Lee game without seven regulars, forcing key players to go both ways. In the meantime, Rush refused to make excuses for the losses.
“We have to play with what we have,” said Rush, whose program has lost its last four games after winning 12 consecutive a year ago. “I try to spend my time thinking positive instead of thinking about the depth situation, getting tired or playing three tough 5A teams. We have to worry about getting ready for district play.”
All except two of the missing players practiced during the week after getting the benefit of a bye last week.
“It was time much needed before district started to get kids healed up, and grades taken care of,” Rush said. “As far as practice we went back to the basics of fundamentals and working on the mistakes we made the previous three games and getting everything a little more smoother.”
After playing up in class three straight games, JT begins district play as big underdogs. The other seven teams combined to go 3-18 in non-district. JT won all seven of its district games last year by an average score of 40-10.
The other district contests tonight pit Whitehouse (0-3) at Jacksonville (0-3), Marshall (1-2) at Kilgore (1-2) and Pine Tree (0-3) and Nacogdoches (0-3).
“Everybody right now is 0-0,” Rush said. “Most of these guys have played some tough teams. We can’t assume anything. People may have picked us to win district, but that’s on paper. We have to do it on the football field.”