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After Cranfills Gap’s disappointing finish last season, Class 1A, DII Lions focus on reclaiming their pride under new head coach in six-man football

After winning two district championships in three years, Cranfills Gap’s move to a new district in 2022 with the UIL’s realignment did not work out well for the Lions. Despite being everyone’s choice to win their second straight district title, the Lions came up short of making the playoffs.

But that was then, and this is now. With a new head coach and almost an entirely new roster, Cranfills Gap does not plan to rebuild – the Lions expect to reload.

Despite being led by four seniors, the Lions will be young without a single junior, six sophomores and four freshmen on the roster. In fact, senior quarterback/spread back/safety Blake Allen, senior running back/linebacker Adan Flores and senior defensive lineman Jonathan Rodriguez represent Cranfills Gap’s three returning lettermen with two offensive and two defensive starters back.

“I think we are a strong contender for district champs,” said Cranfills Gap’s new head coach Joshua Raulston, who will be entering his second season at the helm of a six-man football program. “We have a great returning core of seniors who are excited about getting the season going, and a great young group eager to learn and compete for spots. With a dynamic like that, it makes for a competitive group who want to win.”

Certainly, Raulston hopes a strong sophomore class – Jacob Bell, Jake Cox, Diego Rodriguez, Jake Herrera, Michael Falcon and Cade Winn – can make the adjustment to varsity-level competition.

“Our size gives us some strength on the line, and we have some speed in the backfield as well,” Raulston said. “Having guys similar who can back each other up to take plays off if also a huge advantage. But we need to work on our endurance. We have some size, so conditioning for endurance is going to be huge for us.”

Growing up playing six-man football in Blum, Raulston graduated in 2010 and then spent two years under a livestock judging scholarship to Clarendon College before transferring to Tarleton State to major in Kinesiology. Raulston embarked on his coaching career at Cherokee in 2015, leading to stops in Abbott and Knox City before getting his first football head coaching opportunity in Eden. But a young Bulldog squad struggled to a 1-9 record with only two seniors and eight freshmen last season.

“I’ve been an assistant under some of the best coaches in the state and been in involved in some of the best programs,” Raulston said. “I learned a lot in that first year as a head football coach, and I hope to improve with Cranfills Gap.”

After the UIL realignment placed the Lions in District 12-1A, Division II along with Bluff Dale, Walnut Springs and Iredell in 2022, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine picked 18th-ranked Iredell as the pre-season district title favorite in 2023. And without hesitation, Raulston agrees that the Dragons deserve to be recognized as the team to beat in district.

“They have 19 kids out, which is huge for Division 2 six-man,” Raulston said. “And they have a long running tradition of success. That program has been there for a while under Coach Guereca, and he’s done a great job with it.”

Even though the Lions have been picked to finish last in District 12-1A, DII behind Iredell, the 19th-ranked Bluff Dale Bobcats and the always-competitive Walnut Springs Hornets, Raulston remains optimistic about Cranfills Gap’s chances.

“Being in Cranfills Gap is exciting, and I can’t wait for the season to get started,” Raulston said. “Coming to Cranfills Gap has been a great opportunity for me to get closer to home with friends and family. Gap has been very welcoming and I look forward to taking over their program. I’m very excited about being back in the area.

“These kids seem to be excited about getting started and ready to hit the field. They’ve put in a lot of work during the offseason. They had a successful season last year, but failed to make the playoffs and they’re hoping to turn that around. I look to win district and make a run in the playoffs, but we have a tough group in district to overcome. I’m very excited for the challenge.”


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