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

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