Athens coach Paul Essary has enjoyed his team’s progress during the last three weeks. The Hornets pulled through in a close season opener and dominated their past two foes.

“We’re doing really well and we’re improving week by week,” Essary said. “I’m very proud of their effort. I think one thing that’s really working in our favor is team chemistry.”

On Friday night, Athens will carry a 3-0 record into its road meeting with Rusk (1-2). The Hornets have outscored their past two opponents — District 16-3A’s Spring Hill and Gladewater — by a combined 83-7 after beginning the season with a 31-25 win against Kaufman.

Athens came into the season with high expectations, and is hopeful it will be a strong contender for the 15-3A title once non-district is complete. That means the Hornets will continue building toward their Oct. 11 league opener against Canton (0-3) as they have a showdown next week against Palestine (3-0).

“Each week we’ve gotten a little better, and our kids have gotten a little more comfortable with each other and they are playing with team chemistry,” Essary said. “This is a fun bunch to coach and a fun bunch to be around.”

Essary highlights the offensive line and defense among the team’s impressive features so far. The Hornets’ ground game already has more than 1,000 yards on the season and the offense has only turned the ball over once.

“Our offensive line has done a good job,” he said. “We had to work on some small stuff as far as blocking assignments. Our conditioning is really good, too. That’s a testament to our players not having to come and fight conditioning so much.”

Athens’ defense — led by linebacker K.J. Cumby, among others — stepped up in a big-time way and limited Spring Hill to 80 total yards and Gladewater to 176 total yards to open the season. In the meantime, the Hornets offense has crossed the 1,000-yard rushing mark.

Devin Hall and Logan Fuller finished with more than 100 yards each against Gladewater. Third-year starting quarterback Anthony Sanders passed for touchdowns to Nic Fincher and SMU pledge Chris Jefferson.

Meanwhile, Essary is looking forward to this week’s opponent.

“Rusk brings a different challenge to us,” he said. “They run the flex-bone offense, which has a lot of middle option. That’s makes you have to be really disciplined on defense. … On defense, they use multiple defensive fronts and really like to get their linebackers involved. We have not seen that this year and that’s a real concern because our offensive line has to be really disciplined.”


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