Prior to the 2014 season, John Tyler graduated 10 seniors and returned three starters.
Lions coach Howard Story wasn't sure how his inexperienced team would perform and was pleasantly surprised by a 21-3-3 squad that claimed a district title with a 9-1 mark.
Story hopes for a similar story this time around when JT opens the soccer season Thursday in Lancaster.
The Lions graduated nine seniors from last year's team, including the District 31-4A Defensive MVP and Goalie of the Year as well as six all-district selections and three of four defenders.
But JT brings back six starters, including leading goal scorer Luis Duran and midfielders Aron Alonso and Jose Paz.
"Once again I've got questions in the defensive area I'm trying to sort out but I don't know, I could be pleasantly surprised as I hope to be," Story said.
The Lions are coming off a trip to the sectional playoffs after they won their first nine games of the District 31-4A slate last year, though defensive midfielder Jose Valdez and goalie Luis Melendez are two of the nine seniors that will need to be replaced.
Duran and the midfield four of Alonso, Paz, Ernesto Hernandez and Luis Lizalde will be the driving force for JT this season.
"They are the ones that I'm going to be looking to for strength and leadership on this year's team," Story said.
Story said he's looking for his experienced midfield to bring direction to the whole team and lift the game of those around them. Alonso, Paz and Hernandez were first-team all-district selections last year.
"They have exceptional ball skills and quickness and of course this group of kids reads the game well and so they occupy the center of the field to link up the offense and the defense," Story said.
Duran, who scored 15 goals to be named Co-Offensive MVP in 31-4A and was an all-state kicker and punter on the football team, will be joined up top in the 4-4-2 by either Fredy Hernandez or Sem Fernandez.
Were Duran not such an important goal scorer, he would be the starting goalkeeper. Instead, either Haziel Urieta or Rafael Ibarra will play in goal for the Lions.
In front of the keeper, only junior Antonio Betancourt returns to the back four. Alongside him will be at least two other underclassmen, which Story said he hopes will bode well for the future after graduating seven of eight starting defenders the last two years.
There are also a couple shakeups in the coaching staff. Story, in his seventh year as head coach, will be assisted by Brian Friend and Brandon Ross. His former assistant, Pakaal Mendoza, is now the head coach of the Lady Lions soccer team.
John Tyler fell in the third round of the playoffs for the fourth straight year in 2014 and will have a tough trek to return to the postseason with a new District 16-5A consisting of newcomers Corsicana, Jacksonville, Lufkin and Nacogdoches along with Smith County rivals Lindale and Whitehouse.
"All four of those teams that are new to our district have a lot of history and success," Story said.
League play begins on Jan. 30 at Whitehouse but first JT will play in two tournaments, starting this weekend in the Lancaster Tournament. The Lions face Cleburne at 1 p.m. and Waco Connally at 5 p.m. Thursday.
John Tyler is the defending tournament champion and the Lions would love to start the season off with another tournament title.
"It was good for us to start the season out because I really didn't think we were going to have that much success last year," Story said. "That's what I'm hoping this year is we'll start out on the right foot and just build on success and come together as a team."
2015 John Tyler Boys Soccer Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Jan. 8-10 Lancaster Tournament
Jan. 8 Cleburne# 1 p.m.
Jan. 8 Waco Connally# 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 9 Northwest# 11:30 a.m.
Jan. 10 TBD# TBD
Jan. 15-17 Longview Tournament
Jan. 15 Mount Pleasant^ 7 p.m.
Jan. 16 Shreveport^ 1 p.m.
Jan. 17 Kilgore^ 9 a.m.
Jan. 20 Pine Tree (Rose) 7 p.m.
Jan. 23 Chapel Hill (Rose) 7 p.m.
Jan. 30 at Whitehouse* 7 p.m.
Feb. 3 Corsicana (JT)* 7 p.m.
Feb. 6 at Lindale* 7 p.m.
Feb. 13 Nacogdoches (Rose)* 7 p.m.
Feb. 17 at Jacksonville* 7 p.m.
Feb. 20 Lufkin (JTHS)* 6 p.m.
Feb. 24 Whitehouse (Rose)* 7 p.m.
Feb. 27 at Corsicana* 7 p.m.
March 3 Lindale (JTHS)* 7 p.m.
March 10 at Nacogdoches* 7 p.m.
March 17 Jacksonville (JTHS)* 7 p.m.
March 20 at Lufkin* 6 p.m.
# — Lancaster Tournament
^ — Longview Tournament
* — District 16-5A