FRESH START

in Football

Derailed by injury bug in back-to-back seasons, Class 1A, DII Iredell Dragons hope to return to winning ways

IREDELL – After winning three consecutive district titles and making back-to-back trips to the Class 1A, Division II, Region IV finals in 2017 and 2018, the Iredell Dragons have fallen on hard times.

Following getting derailed by a slew of injuries in 2019, the Dragons were bit by the Covid pandemic and injury bugs last season.

While staying healthy will be the top priority this season, the Dragons hope that results in getting back to their winning ways as well.

“It definitely feels like it is back to normal,” Iredell football head coach Luis Guereca said. “Our numbers improved, so that helps on feeling like it should be. I see it in the kids also. There is no hesitation in being themselves. They can enjoy the practices and games without worrying about having to stop practicing for so many days. At least, for now.”

Entering his 11th season as the Dragon head coach, Guereca led Iredell to five straight winning seasons culminating in three consecutive district titles from 2016-2018.

With the Dragons expected to be in the hunt at the state level again in 2019, injuries took their toll early forcing the team to shutdown before district. Last season ended up feeling like a bit of déjà vu.

With a fresh start in 2021, the Dragons will be young with only five returning lettermen with limited experience. Despite 13 players on the roster, Iredell will not field a single senior.

The Dragons will rely on three juniors – quarterback Preston Robinson along with Chase Wilkerson and Kason Wilson – to provide leadership while turning to four sophomores – running back Payton Murphy, end Jaime Najera, Kyle Niedorf and Conner Sweat – to step up to varsity-level competition.

“Obviously it’s important for every team to stay healthy,” Guereca said. “I just hope we can at least start district play with the same amount of kids we started at the beginning of the season.

“We are just hoping for an opportunity to give ourselves a shot at competing for the playoffs and district championship.”

Clearly, Guereca expects his young squad to grow up in a hurry and compete for a playoff berth in the all-Bosque County District 12-1A, Division II. With the 20th-ranked and defending district champion Morgan Eagles picked to repeat, Guereca knows Walnut Springs and Cranfills Gap will be tough as well.

With that said, Iredell needs to stay healthy season to get a chance to build toward the future.

With six freshmen – Aiden Bailey, Weston Chandler, Deuce Paul, Josiah McAskill, Walker Johnson and Justin Shields – on the roster, there will be some depth to work with this season. And Guereca thinks this freshman class could end up being special.

“We have a young team willing to get better,” Guereca said. “We will need to get our younger players to improve from now until district.

“In the end, we ask our players to compete each day and get better. If we can do that, I believe we can give ourselves an opportunity to win on Friday nights.”

Be sure to pick up a copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 2021 BOSQUE COUNTRY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW published by The Clifton Record & Meridian Tribune on newsstands this week.

Photos by BROOK DEZAVALA & courtesy of Bosque County Publishing

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