If any player on either Kilgore College’s football team or Tyler Junior College’s needed added incentive for the 2017 season, they’ve got it just by looking at the opponent for the opening game this Saturday.: each other.
The Rangers, led by coach J.J. Eckert, will host TJC this Saturday, a 7 p.m. kickoff. It’s the season opener for both Southwest Junior College Football Conference programs, although this one won’t technically count in the conference standings – that comes the final week of the season, in Tyler.
There was only one KC-TJC game in the regular season last year, and that one went to KC (50-29). But there was another: the very next week, in fact, the Rangers had to face the Apaches in a conference playoff game.
KC won that one, as well, a 58-51 shootout. The Rangers finished 6-5, and lost for the second straight year to Trinity Valley in the conference’s title game.
Tyler comes into this contest looking loaded. Voters in the NJCAA’s preseason poll must agree: the Apaches are ranked 16th nationally as the season begins, one of four SWJCFC teams ranked in the top 20 (Trinity Valley, at fourth, is the highest; Navarro, TJC and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M are all scattered throughout). KC is just outside the top 20, but was one of six other schools to receive votes.
The Rangers begin their 12th season headed up by Eckert, whose teams have produced four winning seasons in the last five, and regularly play for the conference championship.
KC is led, of course, by sophomore linebacker Troy Burnett, an NJCAA All-American a year ago. Also back on defense are defensive ends Quinton Edney and Matthew McClellan, defensive tackle Ken Fagans (from Kilgore), lineman Quanterius Turner, linebacker Ty Hayter, and defensive backs Koreenza Credit, Edward Hayes, and Byron Robinson.
The Rangers have some familiar faces returning on offense, including lineman Israel Allen, Jaime Davis, and Anthonie Thomas, as well as wideouts D.J. Hicks (of West Rusk), Zecharius Nash-Kelly, Zach Newbell, and Anthony Thomas. Quarterback Dontre’ Thomas is among six signal-callers that Eckert is looking at under center. It’s a crowded spot.
The Rangers have an all-time record of 491-289-14, and are the state’s winningest junior college football program.
Eckert will try to get a good gauge of where his team is in this contest, and will have a little time afterward – the Rangers have an early open date next week, and then host Arkansas Baptist on Sept. 9.