Well, we’re going to scattershot some in this first version of “What’s Causing All This” of the 2019 football season – and we’re going to start with a couple of stories that happened this week.
Good start for most everyone in football: Kilgore, Kilgore College, Sabine, West Rusk and Leverett’s Chapel have combined for a 11-0 start. And yes, I know obviously that KC is on a different level – the Rangers are the number-two team in the nation in junior college football.
But they’re all getting there in various ways. Kilgore High School football coach Mike Wood has hit reboot and has a first-year quarterback in Dalton McElyea that, knock on wood, looks like he’s a three-year starter. Offensive coordinator Jay Dean is making some great calls, the offensive line dominated at Hallsville, and Les Loper’s defense looks reborn, with few costly penalties through three games and already as many interceptions as the Bulldogs had all of last year (three).
KC hasn’t missed a beat with Willie Gooden now as head coach. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Frazier looks like the best signal-caller in the nation, and has targets everywhere, including Gabe Douglas and Omar Manning. Manning got an offer from Florida just last week. The defense is making things happen, and that’s even with a lot of talent from last year now playing at four-year schools.
The Rangers are 3-0 – I waited, in fact, until after they played at New Mexico Military on Saturday night to finish this column to see how they’d do. They were ranked second in the nation last week, and still are, although they’re tied with Butler. KC hosts Cisco Saturday, and I can see 4-0 in their future.
West Rusk has a new head coach – Nick Harrison – and also had to reset, hit kind of hard by graduation. Jaylon Shelton, formerly the backup quarterback, has been very good through two games and offensive coordinator Rafe Mata’s first year with the Raiders has been impressive through the first two games, having scored almost 60 points against both Arp and Waskom. The Waskom win Friday night was especially impressive. Waskom isn’t chopped liver, a former two-time (recent) state champion at the 3A level.
I’ve been especially impressed with Sabine. Coach Rex Sharp’s Cardinals have brought back almost all their starters on both sides of the ball. B.J. Stidham already has over 420 rushing behind a very good offensive line, and Landon McKinney is also getting some collegiate offers. They’ve scored 81 points in two games, with Harleton this week. They’re in a tough district that includes West Rusk and Tatum, but suddenly, Sabine looks like they could be a major player.
Leverett’s Chapel has a different challenge playing six-man – it’s way more wide-open. But the Lions have played two home games, won both, and have three more before they even set foot on a bus. That should give coach Andy Bates time to get into a rhythm. The Lions only have three district games, and get the final week of the regular season as an off week if they’re able to make the playoffs.
Changes in the News Herald and our online product: It’s been fun through two weeks. My only regret is that we have an early print deadline now, and most of the Friday night coverage has been moved online. “Deadline” isn’t just a playful word; it really means a hard time by which you have to be through. That’s not something I can negotiate. If they tell me it’s 10:40, then it’s 10:40.
That means to see “What’s Causing All This,” and several of our game stories, you’re going to need to read them online.
The good news is that as a reader, you’re getting more. I’m not restricted by space online; I can write this column as long as I’d like, and I have people telling me they want to read “What’s Causing All This.” That means more for you.
Another good example: our Sabine correspondent, Jeremy Newlin, is a very good writer who really cares about the kids at Sabine. He normally writes fairly long, but I have had to cut it to fit it in the print edition.
So I’ve decided to put Newlin’s story, edited, online pretty much in its entirety. Once we settle in, you’ll see more on the other teams, as well.
Bear with me as I work out these issues, and I assure you we’ll all enjoy football season.
Volleyball: Just a few things I need to note here.
If you haven’t seen it, Sabine is doing very well in volleyball, already having passed the 20-win total – and we’re just now starting the district schedule next week. The Lady Cardinals could have a special season.
Leverett’s Chapel went 2-1 in a tournament last week in Fort Worth, and although they’re going to have to get through an injury to Jillian Shaw, the Lady Lions have great leadership in Rickey Hammontree, who is very good at putting a winning product on the court.
And yes, Kilgore did lose to Longview Tuesday night, in five sets, but has won three of its last four for first-year coach Madeline Harris, including a sweep of Pine Tree last week. Let me tell you the significance of this: Pine Tree was dominant for years in volleyball in East Texas, and Kilgore was their personal pin cushion.
Back a decade ago, when sets were played to 15 points instead of 25, I can remember covering Kilgore-PT volleyball and being completely through with varsity in 25 minutes, and that’s not an exaggeration. The Lady Pirates have had some coaching changes, most recently bringing in former KHS coach Lacy Coldiron, and I told her last week after their loss to Kilgore that I believe she will turn the program around.
Still, it was shocking to see Kilgore dominate Pine Tree the way Pine Tree once dominated the Lady ‘Dogs on the court. Harris replaced Coldiron, and Coldiron guided KHS to the playoffs three of the last four years. Make no mistake: Kilgore has some work to do. But I have no doubt that Harris, who to me seems a knowledgeable and intent-on-winning coach, will get them there over time.
Football preview change: This is small, but it’s been bothering me.
Our football preview this year was printed about five days before it actually ran in the paper. In the preview, I always do my NFL forecast for the upcoming season: who will win the NFL’s divisions, who will be the wild cards, who will win the playoff games, and ultimately, who will get to and actually win the Super Bowl.
My pick for the AFC South champion was Indianapolis. But less than 24 hours after the preview printed, Indy quarterback Andrew Luck, last year’s comeback player of the year, shocked the sports world by his retirement. I couldn’t go back and change it, but I don’t believe the Colts will win the division. I think it’ll finish Houston, Tennessee, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, in that order.
Dallas’s hot start: I didn’t get to see the Cowboys play last week; I had a deacons meeting, and more times than not, they play at 3:25 p.m. Sunday, which is SUPER aggravating to those of us who have anything at church.
Anyway, I did see numbers and highlights, and I’ve affirmed my previous belief that, even though I don’t care for his character, Ezekiel Elliott is the most complete running back in football. We all know the defense has gotten better each year for the last three years (check that out, but I’m right; they were a top-10 defense last year). Receiver Amari Cooper is one of the best in football and now Michael Gallop and Randall Cobb are adding another dimension.
Jason Witten is back. He can’t outrun me, but he has a way of making that big, clutch catch. Dallas’s kicking game is solid, and quarterback Dak Prescott should have his best season this year.
In short, after one week, even though it was the New York Giants, I’d put the Cowboys as the best early-season team in the NFC. Not the NFL, mind you; the NFC. Which brings us to…
Power rankings: We’ve seen exactly one weekend of games, but I’m going to do this after every week, and it’s my top five, based completely on the play on the field, not any activities off it.
1. The New England Patriots. They completely, totally dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers. Enough said.
2. The Dallas Cowboys. See my reasoning above, plus their early-season schedule is putrid: at Washington this weekend and then playing the JV-ish Miami Dolphins next. Yuck.
3. The Kansas City Chiefs. I’ve been a doubter of Patrick Mahomes for a while. After last year, I’m no longer a doubter. If coach Andy Reid has his defense fixed, they remain my pick for the AFC spot in the Super Bowl.
4. The Baltimore Ravens. Somebody forgot to tell Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson that he couldn’t throw the football. All he did was throw five touchdown passes.
5. The Los Angeles Rams. Got to the Super Bowl last year and lost to the Patriots. There’s normally a bit of a let-down. But the Rams came out and gave it to Carolina in Charlotte. That’s a hard place to win. If they beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, they’re probably rising up this list. By the way, if the power rankings were the top six, the Saints would be six.
College playoff watch: Again, not enough tendencies or action yet to really do this, but to be consistent, if the season ended today, here’s my four-team playoff field. We’ve got a few months before that’s set.
1. Clemson. The defending national champs. Their schedule is AWFUL, not just with a capitol A, but in all-caps. They play two games: vs. Texas A&M (last week, a win) and this week at Syracuse. Why is everyone talking bad about Alabama’s schedule with that mess going on in that “conference” called the ACC?
2. Alabama. They got waxed by Clemson in last year’s national title game, largely because of transition and indifference with members of the (now gone) coaching staff. But they still have all that depth, and the best passing game in football. Remember this name: Jerry Jeudy.
3. LSU. Yes, LSU and not Georgia. The Bulldogs have to give me an impressive win to show me something, after losing all that talent to the NFL. They’ll have their chance. They’ve got a home game against Notre Dame coming up. But as for LSU, even though their defense was not good last week playing Texas in Austin, they still beat a good Texas team in Austin. I’ll give the Tigers credit for that. Best win of the young season so far – as long as Texas is as good as we think they are.
4. Oklahoma. I think the Sooners and UT are on a collision course, maybe even twice. But I’m putting them here now based on the eye test. They look good enough to be here – and really, at this point, no one else looks worthy.
See you at Kilgore-Pine Tree on Friday night.