Football is football.

It's an oft-repeated phrase from John Tyler coach Ricklan Holmes when asked about his team's move up to Class 6A from 5A.

On Saturday afternoon, as the Lions officially begin life in 6A against Plano West, classification will be the farthest thing from Holmes' mind.

"Classification has always just been classification," Holmes said. "We've played bigger schools before. We have to make sure we go out there and play John Tyler football and not worry about the class size of each school."

The Lions and Wolves kick off at noon from Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in the finale of the CTMF Football Classic at Earl Campbell Field.

John Tyler has habitually scheduled teams at the highest classification even when in the lower division for the last six years, so the competition level will be nothing new.

But in playing Plano West, the challenge doesn't get much bigger. The school has an enrollment of 5,648 - the only school to turn in a larger number for the 2016-2018 seasons is Allen with 6,380.

John Tyler, with 2,270 students, is on the smaller side of 6A, with the cutoff at 2,150.

But, as Holmes likes to point out, once the teams take the field, it's 11 vs. 11.

The 11 Lions taking the field to start the season on Saturday will be an experienced bunch. JT returns 14 of 22 starters from an 8-4 team in 2015.

Chief among those is senior quarterback Bryson Smith, a Houston commit who lit up 5A last year to the tune of 2,437 yards passing and 1,441 yards rushing. He racked up 41 total touchdowns while averaging 323 total yards of offense per game.

With Texas-bound receiver Damion Miller back after nearing 1,000 yards as a junior, the Lions pass offense should continue to put up big numbers. The unit helped JT reach the semifinals at the state 7-on-7 tournament over the summer.

Despite the explosive potential, Holmes said he's looking for his offense to string together long drives on Saturday.

"I'm looking for us to be able to control the clock, make the plays we need to," Holmes said. "And make a couple big plays because we have the playmakers."

The JT offense will be facing a defense returning four starters and led by senior linebackers Mohamed Sanogo and Titus Wall, two of the team's three returning all-district selections.

The JT defense will be facing an offense returning two starters led by senior quarterback Tanner Gillean. Most of all, with stalwart interior defensive linemen Braylon Jones (Houston) and Pierre Leonard (Texas A&M-Commerce) now playing on Saturdays, the Lions defense will have to contend with a sizable Wolves offensive line.

"We're going to have to play strong up front, have them throw more than they want," Holmes said.

How JT stacks up against the size of 6A schools - not in terms of numerical advantage but weight advantage in the trenches - will be vital to the Lions' success this fall, especially with four new starters on the offensive line.

But football is football. And once the game begins, the only numbers that matter are the ones on the scoreboard when the final whistle blows.

"We've got to be committed," Smith said. "Everybody's got to buy in. We can't have any selfish players. Everybody's got to be together. We've got to just come together and be a unit. If that happens, the sky's the limit."


Plano West Wolves at John Tyler Lions

When: noon Saturday

Where: Earl Campbell Field at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium, Tyler

Radio: ESPN East Texas 92.1-FM, Tyler

2015 Records: Plano West - 3-7; John Tyler - 8-4.

2015 Result: Did not play

All-Time Series: First meeting

Players to Watch: Plano West - LB Mohamed Sanogo (6-2, 235, Sr.), QB Tanner Gillean (6-0, 165, Sr.), LB Titus Wall (6-0, 195, Sr.). John Tyler - QB Bryson Smith (6-0, 170, Sr.), CB/WR Kieran Freeman (5-8, 165, Sr.), OL/DL Dau'quawn Montgomery (6-1, 280, Sr.).

Quick Slant: John Tyler will be eager for a strong start to the 2016 campaign, not least because the Lions are newbies to Class 6A. JT lost its first three games in 2015 before rebounding to win eight straight. With the competition level raised, a slow start won't be as easy to overcome. The Wolves return six starters (two on offense) from a 3-7 team that finished last in District 6-6A last year. But Plano West is the second largest school in the state, so there are plenty of warm bodies to fill in for coach Scott Smith in his second year in charge. Plano West began playing football in 2000 and has never played JT. The Lions have some history with the other two Plano schools. JT is 3-1 all-time against Plano (No. 3 largest school this year), including going 1-1 over the past two seasons. The Lions are 1-2 against Plano East (No. 4 largest school), but the one win was perhaps the most memorable victory in JT history, the unforgettable 48-44 playoff win after blowing a 41-17 win with 3:03 remaining.

Quotable: "First thing we've got to do is play John Tyler football and do what we've been coached to do for the last six to seven months. The game is going to be the game and (we need) not worry about everything that goes on outside the game." - John Tyler coach Ricklan Holmes.

Stadium Address: Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium (11,500) - 700 Fair Park Drive, Tyler.

Next Up: Plano West at Garland Sachse, 7 p.m. Thursday; John Tyler at Ennis, 7:30 p.m. Friday.

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