Like a runaway train, football season is bearing down on us, and that’s never, ever a bad thing.

Kilgore College, led for the first time by former walk-on and longtime assistant Willie Gooden, began practice for the 2019 season on Sunday afternoon, and a day later, high school programs across the state started their own preparations for the season.

Kilgore High School hit the practice field about 4 p.m., and there’s some familiar faces absent – a few coaching departures and obvious graduations – and a few new faces that figure to make an impact in ’19.

Sabine, West Rusk and all the other schools in the News Herald’s coverage area also hit the field at various times, and each has their own set of challenges. We’ll look at all of them fairly in-depth in our annual football preview – that’ll be a part of the News Herald’s print edition on Wednesday, Aug. 28, two days before the high schools start the regular season.

It’ll have schedules, of course, as well as photos and preview stories for KHS, KC, Sabine, Overton, West Rusk and Leverett’s Chapel. For good measure, I always throw in my predictions for the upcoming season on major college football and the National Football League. May do that a little different this year.

Before we get to scattershoot on a few topics, let me tell you a few dates to remember.

Kilgore’s first day in pads is this Friday, and then the Bulldogs will practice regularly next week; the annual watermelon fest is next Thursday, Aug. 15, and the ‘Dogs host Gilmer the following night, Friday, Aug. 16, in the first of two preseason scrimmages.

The Bulldogs visit Kaufman the following Friday, Aug. 23, for a second and final preseason scrimmage, and then officially open the season at Nacogdoches on Friday, Aug. 30.

The Ragin’ Red has an open competition for the starting quarterback position, as well as a few new faces along the offensive line. Backs Kennieth Lacy and Tray Epps return, but receiver will have new faces, and so will some key spots on defense.

The coaching staff has had some changes, as former offensive coordinator Rafe Mata is now at West Rusk, and longtime assistants Mark Roskos and Keith Meyers retired. Another longtime assistant, T.J. Gillen-Hall, has taken over Meyers’ former position as offensive line coach, and a former Bulldog, Colby Rosen, has returned to the ‘Dogs as tight ends coach.

Kilgore College actually opens its season first, before the high schools, this year, as they did last year. The Rangers will host archrival Tyler Junior College in a non-conference game on Saturday, Aug. 24, here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium, a 7 p.m. kickoff.

The Rangers’ very first Southwest Junior College Football Conference game is the next week, on Aug. 31, and it’s at home, too, against Navarro, another 7 p.m. kick.

KC went 10-2 last year and won both the regular-season conference title and the playoff title, then for good measure, the Rangers went to Waco and beat Pima (Ariz.) College in the annual TIPS-CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl.

Gooden walked on at KC as a lineman back in the early 2000’s and was a part of KC’s unbeaten team in 2001. He’s been an assistant to former coach J.J. Eckert for 12 seasons, and Eckert departed for his alma mater, Northeastern State (Okla.) after the season.

A few topics to touch on that I’ve noticed over the week…

The no-good, very-bad bummer summer for the Cowboys’ finances: In the very first Football World column, I discussed the ongoing financial contractual standoff between Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and the franchise.

Elliott was just beginning a holdout to get a new contract for the team, and is still currently in that holdout as of Tuesday afternoon as this goes to press, in spite of the fact that he’s under contract this season and in 2020.

Elliott wants a contract befitting, in his mind, of the league’s best running backs. I’m certainly not arguing that – he’s definitely in that category, and is very much the key cog in the Cowboys’ offense. On the other hand, some might argue that, since quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper are only under contract this year, perhaps Elliott and his agents could have waited and allowed the franchise to get them extended first.

Just Tuesday, word broke that Elliott’s representation told the Cowboys back as early as January that he wouldn’t play for the Cowboys this season without a new contract, according to ESPN, at least. So the Cowboys have known Elliott’s stance for quite some time.

I don’t agree with what Elliott is doing, and I think it’s selfish and could cause the Cowboys major salary cap headaches in the near future, but I’m inclined to predict the two sides will reach a deal before the regular season starts. The Cowboys begin their preseason schedule this Saturday in San Francisco, an 8 p.m. local time kickoff.

Surprise, surprise: Defending major college football national champion Clemson is ranked number one, runner-up Alabama, number two in the 2019 preseason USA Today coaches poll.

And water is wet, grass is green, and Santa Claus wears red.

See you at watermelon fest.

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