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August 25, 2021

SOARING FOR A REPEAT

in Football

Already running into a road block, the Class 1A, DII’s 20th-ranked Morgan Eagles hope to post back-to-back district titles

MORGAN – Before they could play their second scrimmage of the 2021 Texas high school football season, the Morgan Eagles found themselves headed home due to a school district-wide Covid-related shutdown. And after claiming the first-ever mythical Bosque County Six-Man Football championship, it wasn’t the way the Eagles envisioned embarking of their defense of the District 12-1A, Division II title.

“We will face this and deal with it, hoping to get back to playing football soon,” Morgan football head coach Edward Aviles said. “But right now, the safety of everyone in our community is our top concern.”

After Covid safety protocols forced Morgan to close the school, the Eagles to cancel their season opener against Penelope last Thursday. But barring any setbacks, Morgan hopes to open their 2021 quest to return to the Class 1A, DII playoffs when the Eagles host Oglesby next Friday at 6:30 p.m. With seven returning lettermen that includes five offensive and five defense starters, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine picked Morgan (8-3 overall, 4-0 in district) to repeat as district champions.

“I am looking forward to seeing our team grow and mesh from last season,” Aviles said. “All the players coming back gained a lot of experience from last season. It should be fun to watch this group use that experience to put ourselves in a position to be successful.”

After throwing for 294 yards and six touchdowns last season, senior Manuel Muniz will take over full-time quarterback duties, spreading the ball around through the air and on the ground. Morgan’s talented group of offensive weapons include senior running back Gerardo Monroy, junior running back Dathen Davenport, junior split back Kason Sims, junior running back Adrian Vera-Rico and junior wide receiver Keylan Watts.

“Experience and our players’ ability to adjust will be our greatest strength,” Aviles said. “Fixing the kicking game for extra points will be crucial and a focus for us.”

After the district faced unprecedented disruption from Covid and injuries last season, Aviles expects a hard-fought battle in 2021.

Coming off their first district championship since 1982, Cranfills Gap brought high expectations for a repeat into the 2020 season. But when the Eagles soared past the defending District 12-1A, Division II champion Cranfills Gap Lions, 52-6, in last season’s district opener, little did Aviles and his squad know that it would be the only victory needed to earn a postseason berth coming out of the all-Bosque County five-team league.

“Our district should be tougher this season,” Aviles said. “Kopperl will be young, Iredell will be young with numbers, Cranfills Gap will have two very good running backs, and Walnut Springs will bring back a young team that gained some good experience from last season. It should be fun to watch our district play out.”

But unfortunately for Kopperl, Iredell and Cranfills Gap, Covid-19 and the injury bug proved to be the most difficult obstacle to overcome in a high school football season filled with the unexpected. With the season already over for those three teams, 15th-ranked Morgan hit the road to face the young and surprising 26th-ranked Walnut Springs Hornets, and the Eagles rolled to an impressive 58-6 victory to claim the district title.

“Walnut Springs will have almost everyone from last year,” Aviles said. “They have some seniors with some young talent. But it will be a toss-up with Cranfills Gap. It will be tough with Cranfills Gap having a duo of running back that will be tough to defend.”

The last time all five Bosque County six-man schools played in the same district, none of the current head coaches were around to see it. Although the Bosque County rivals competed in the same district in 2002, the previous league also included outsiders Jonesboro and Oglesby. And make no mistake, Morgan wants to make it two in a row.

“Keeping ourselves healthy, making necessary adjustments with personnel, and making plays when we need to will be important to us having a successful season,” Aviles said. “I think our experience and players being able to move around will allow us to be the mix to make the playoffs.”

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 SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

READY TO BATTLE THE BEST

in Football

After missing the playoffs in 2020, new head coach hopes to lead Class 2A, DI Valley Mills Eagles back to the promise land in tough District 7-2A, DI

VALLEY MILLS — Coming off a disappointing campaign in 2020 after making back-to-back trips to the postseason, the Valley Mills Eagles will face the challenges that lie ahead under the direction of a new head coach.

For Valley Mills’ first-year athletic director and football head coach Bob Featherston, it feels like a homecoming.

“We are a Central Texas family,” Featherston said. “This area has great football, great kids and supportive communities. I can’t think of a better place to be a high school football coach.”

Competing in the power-packed District 7-2A, Division I loaded with traditional forces to be reckoned with in the Heart of Texas region, the Eagles hope to return the playoffs after missing the postseason for the first time in three seasons in 2020.

But to do so, the Eagles must go head-to-head with the likes of the defending district champion Crawford Pirates, who enter the 2021 Texas high school football season as Class 2A, DI’s fourth-ranked team in the state.

But that’s not all. After advancing to the area playoffs last season, the 16th-ranked Tolar Rattlers have eight offensive and nine defensive starters returning, while the 2020 district runnerup and regional finalist Bosqueville Bulldogs open the season ranked 19th in the state.

“I think we have a very talented district, and it will definitely be a dog fight to get into the playoffs,” Featherston said. “With that being said, I think we have some good football players with experience and some young players with talent that will give us a good chance of making it to the postseason.

“The team to beat in district will be Crawford with its tradition of winning. But I believe we will be in the top four.”

With 15 returning lettermen that includes six offensive and four defensive starters, the cupboard will not be bare for Featherston. Despite lacking overall size, the Eagles will have good team speed starting with some talent at the offensive skill positions.

Senior Brayden Richardson returns at quarterback and will have three established receivers to chose from in seniors Cooper Ewing, Josh Garcia and Kaleb Kuligowski. The offensive line will be anchored by senior Ashton Blassingame and junior Colson Klemcke, while the Eagle defense will be led by junior defensive back Brady Whitlock.

Taking over in Valley Mills for his first head coaching job, Featherston grew up and played football in Gatesville before graduating from Sam Houston State University in 1997. With 24 years of coaching experience, Featherston began his career with stints in Huntsville and Elgin before returning home to Gatesville for a 16-year run, serving 13 seasons as the defensive coordinator.

After one season in Godley, Featherson worked as the defensive coordinator at Mount Vernon under former Baylor head coach Art Briles. During those two seasons, Mount Vernon posted a 20-6 win-loss record with back-to-back playoff appearances, losing to the Jim New Indians in the Class 3A, Division I state semifinals in 2020.

“Obviously, my biggest highlight is getting to coach with Art Briles and playing in the semifinals last year,” Featherston said. “Now, I’ve been to every round except the state championship game.

“This season has started much more smoothly without the delays and extra protocols. We still want to practice good hygiene, clean locker rooms with space, and be aware of possible situations, but it does feel more like the normal football seasons we’ve been accustomed to.”

With all that said, Featherston looks forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

“We need to keep developing strength in the weight room, have more urgency on the field and learn accountability,” Featherston said. “If we can improve in these areas, we will have a successful season.”

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 MELANIE SCALLION & courtesy of Blue Lily Event Productions

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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