Despite UIL realignment & new head coach, Class 1A, DII Cranfills Gap Lions put their sights on back-to-back district championships
CRANFILLS GAP – By winning their second district championship in three years, the Cranfills Gap Lions re-established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in Bosque County six-man football. But when the Lions begin their quest to repeat in the 2022 Texas high school season, they will be doing so in a new district and with new head coach Rodie Johnston leading the way.
After cutting his teeth as a head coach by returning to his high school alma mater last season, Johnston left Gustine after only one season to accept the position as athletic director and head coach at Cranfills Gap. Prior to going to Gustine, Johnston served as defensive coordinator at Iredell for six seasons.
“During that time, Iredell recorded two district championships, a regional semi-finalist appearance, as well as a regional finalist appearance,” Johnston said. “I was also chosen to be the defensive coordinator for the 2016 Texas Six-Man Coaches Association All-Star game.”
Before attending Tarleton State, Johnston played six-man football at Gustine.
“I played six-man football growing up,” Johnston said. “And have been around it in some capacity ever since.”
It’s not often that a coach gets the chance to inherit a program expected to win a district championship, but that’s exactly the situation Johnston takes over. Clearly, it was not a difficult decision to make.
“Coming from Iredell, I have been around and competed against Cranfills Gap for six years. Over the years, I have recognized the community involvement as well as the overall sportsmanship among the athletes.”
After the UIL realignment placed the Lions in District 12-1A, Division II along with Bluff Dale, Walnut Springs and Iredell, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine picked Cranfills Gap as the favorite.
“I think our expectations are high this season,” Johnston said. “Cranfills Gap has had success the last few seasons, and that kind of raises the bar as far as expectations. District play will be tough. In a four-team district, every game seems to have the feel of a rivalry game. From my experience being around the other teams, it’s going to be a battle to the finish.
“I think the team to beat is Walnut Springs. Just being around them for several years, I can’t remember the last time they haven’t made the playoffs. Every year, they seem to have a competitive team looking to make the postseason.
“But I think we are sitting in a good position coming into the season with the depth that we have. With teams like Walnut, Bluff Dale, and Iredell, this could be a district race that plays out until the final game of the season.”
Loaded with 12 returning lettermen that includes five offensive and five defensive starters back, the Lions will be led by four seniors – Aiden Doty, Case Koehler, Hayden Kirby and Peyton Sorenson – as well as three juniors – Adan Flores, Blake Allen and Jonathan Rodrigues.
By suiting up 20 players, Cranfills Gap will have plenty of options to turn to it the injury bug bites.
“Our greatest strength is our depth,” Johnston said. “We are blessed to have 20 athletes that came out for football this year. The greatest weakness would be having a new coach come in and having to learn a new system in a short amount of time. It will take a little bit of time to make the transition, but the kids are resilient and have been making a good adjustment so far.”
While the Lions have set their sights on another district title, that will not be enough this season.
“The most important thing will be to continue to build off of the success that they have had,” Johnston said. “The kids are motivated and ready to take the next step from winning a district championship to making a deep playoff run.
“In order to accomplish that goal, we as a coaching staff have to find a way to maximize potential with every athlete. As a team, we are going to have to work together as one unit in order to reach our goals.”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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