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As the 2020 Texas high school football season begins, COVID-19 & UIL realignment changes landscape across the Heart of Texas

Once again, it’s time for some high school football under the Friday night lights across the state of Texas. And after enduring a shutdown of all University Interscholastic League athletics last March due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic as well as on again, off again workouts during the summer, it’s finally time for a return to normalcy.

Well, sorta.

Beginning with games Thursday, Class 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A schools will begin their football seasons, while Class 6A and 5A have been put on hold until Sept. 24. With COVID-19 hot spots in mind, the UIL decided to postpone schools located in the highly-populated urban areas.

But across the primarily rural Heart of Texas region, there will be no shortage of games this week, featuring the defending Class 3A, Division I state champion and second-ranked Grandview Zebras hosting the fourth-ranked Malakoff Tigers, Class 3A, DI’s 13th-ranked Lorena visiting Class 3A, DII’s eighth-ranked Franklin, Class 2A, DI’s 10th-ranked San Saba playing host to Class 2A, DII’s 19th-ranked Eldorado, and Class 1A, DI’s sixth-ranked White Deer will take on Class 1A, DII’s seventh-ranked Strawn.

Of course in addition to the adjustments forced on high school sports due to the pandemic, the 2020-22 UIL reclassification and realignment somewhat reshuffled the deck in the 10-county Heart of Texas region.

One of the more interesting developments involves District 7-2A, Division I, which will feature all seven teams from the Heart of Texas region, thanks to three teams dropping down in classification. Moving from Class 3A to 2A, Hamilton, Rio Vista and Tolar will drop down to join Crawford and Valley Mills in the revamped district, while Bosqueville and Itasca make the lateral move from District 8-2A, DI.

“We are excited to see some old opponents back in our district,” Valley Mills football head coach Sam Moody said. “From top to bottom in our district, it is going to be great competition against some really good programs.”

While many of the areas schools were not impacted directly by being reclassified, some of them saw dramatic changes in their district alignments due to the shifting surrounding landscape.

After the last two realignments gave Clifton High School two completely different sets of district opponents in District 8-3A, DII, the Cubs stayed in Class 3A, Division II, but jumped from Region 2 to Region 4 to join District 13-3A, DII. Interestingly, Rogers, Lexington and Florence followed Clifton in the move, joining Buffalo and state-ranked Franklin, while Riesel makes the jump into the new seven-team district from Class 2A, DI.

“Other than Riesel, we have either played or seen the others, so we have a pretty good idea of what we will get out of them,” Clifton football head coach Chuck Caniford said. “It will be a highly competitive district for sure with lots of travel. But we are in a very unique geographical position, in that no matter where we went, we were likely going to have to travel a lot.

“The biggest change will be moving to Region 4. Now our first round opponents are all located south of Interstate 10 along the coast. That will make things very interesting and different.”

Possibly one of the most fun realignments in the region, if not the state, put all five Bosque County six-man schools – Cranfills Gap, Iredell, Kopperl, Morgan and Walnut Springs – exclusively in a district all their own, District 12-1A, Division II. Although the Bosque County rivals competed in the same district in 2002, the previous league also included outsiders Jonesboro and Oglesby.

“We are excited to be back in a district with all our county rivals,” said Cranfills Gap head coach Adam Carroll as the Lions will be coming off their first district championship since 1982. “We all know each other very well as teams and coaches. We are looking forward to the challenges that this district will bring as well.

“Iredell and Kopperl didn’t have enough to finish the season this last year, but their numbers should be better for this next year. Morgan and Walnut Springs are both well-coached. And even though all of the teams lost some key seniors, we will see who rebuilds the fastest before district starts.”

“This new football district was anticipated last realignment, but it finally came to fruition this time,” said Morgan head coach Edward Aviles, who led the Eagles to the postseason before losing to Cranfills Gap in a bi-district matchup. “I am glad to see all of the Bosque County teams grouped together. I anticipate some competitive games to fight for the two playoff spots. I can’t wait to get started.”

After coming into the 2019 season as Class 1A, DII’s sixth-ranked squad, the Iredell Dragons were decimated by injuries, forcing them to forfeit their district schedule.

“It’s going to be a great district to be a part of,” Iredell head coach Luis Guereca said. “It will be competitive each week. It’s always interesting and fun to be a part of the all-Bosque County six-man district. We’re looking forward to football season.”

The last time all five Bosque County six-man schools played in the same, Walnut Springs head coach Tim Trotter was the only one around to see it. But when Trotter retired during the summer as the county’s longest tenured head coach dating back to 1994, Walnut Spring principal Lonnie Flippen will return to the sideline to coach for the first time since 1991.

“This district is the way it should be,” Trotter said. “We’re all close, and it creates a friendly rivalry.”


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