Still in tough District 8-2A, DI stacked with traditional powerhouses, the Valley Mills Eagles must face some of the state’s best in search of their first playoff berth since 2019
In search for their first trip to the Class 2A, Division I playoffs since 2019, the Valley Mills Eagles find themselves facing the same gauntlet that has stood before them over the last four seasons – the district of doom.
Despite moving to District 8-2A, DI in the UIL’s last realignment, Valley Mills still lines up against the eighth-ranked Crawford Pirates, the 18th-ranked Marlin Bulldogs, perennial postseason contenders Bosqueville, Riesel and Rosebud-Lott, as well as Moody and Bruceville-Eddy. This season, Valley Mills has been picked to finish fifth by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, just out of the playoff qualifying top four.
“I think the district predictions are fair looking at last year’s outcomes,” Featherston said. “Hopefully, we will find a way to make it into the top four and continue to play games in November. We feel that this year’s team has the ability to compete with all the teams in our district. If we stay healthy and continue to grow as a team, we will have the opportunity to battle for a spot in a very tough district.”
Valley Mills will begin preparing to take on that slate of tough district opponents when the Eagles host the Wheeler Mustangs in the non-district season opener at 6 p.m. Friday.
Coming off a one-win campaign in 2022, Wheeler has been picked to finish last in District 2-2A, DII behind fourth-ranked Wellington, 23rd-ranked Clarendon, Shamrock, Memphis and Quanah. Despite still playing with a very young team, Mustang head coach Matt Hoover has all 11 starters on both sides of the ball returning with only three seniors on the roster.
After making back-to-back trips to the postseason in 2018 and 2019, the Valley Mills Eagles have come up short in their quest to return to the playoffs during the last three seasons – the most recent two under Featherston.
“We are in a very tough district for the second straight season, but we were in a tough district the previous two years as well,” Featherston said. “This team has a good group of seniors with a lot of experience. It is important that the seniors lead with positivity, and the younger players fill in to play the roles necessary to complete the team.
“Most importantly, this group of young men need to enjoy their time together and take every opportunity that is placed before them, leaving with no regrets.”
Certainly, the Eagles will not be short on experience with 15 returning lettermen, including five offensive and six defensive starters. Led by senior quarterback Elandis Taylor (5-8, 160), senior wide receiver Cason Johnson (6-0, 155) returns as his favorite target in the passing game. In his third season as the Eagle signal caller, Taylor passed for 1,954 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushing for three more scores as a sophomore in 2021. Senior center Jackson Clark (5-10, 225) will anchor the offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, senior defensive end Fred Sadler (5-9, 200) and senior nose guard Josh McKain (5-11, 220) will man the trenches, senior Will McDonald (6-0, 175) will lead the linebacking corps, while senior Brady Woodrome (5-8, 150) quarterbacks the defensive backfield.
“Senior leadership and overall speed will be our strengths,” Featherston said. “But general, we are relatively small. With that being said, if we can stay healthy, we can compete for a spot in the top four of district.”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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