THIS WEEK: Hamlin’s Russell Lucas talks about his move to Sweetwater
Football coaches are by nature, organized, disciplined people. They have to be, or they’d never be able to compete with their peers, who are also organized, disciplined people.
Because of that, they are ready to deal with every contingency. Or at least, every contingency that has existed before the year 2020.
How to handle a rash of injuries? Check.
How to deal with a discipline issue? Check.
How to play a game in the mud? Check.
How to deal with a worldwide pandemic? Hmmm … We’re a little fuzzy on that one. And even the most experienced coaches in the Big Country are learning on the fly when it comes to dealing with it.
There’s been no lack of frustration for coaches all over the area. But at this juncture, no area team has more to lose, or more reason to go completely bananas over this subject than the second-ranked Hamlin Pied Pipers, who are once again a strong state title contender in Class 2A Division II.
HAMLIN — There is an undercurrent of older football fans who think the modern game has lost some of its edge.
Today’s game, they say, with its high-tech spread offenses has taken some of the physicality away from football, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. And today’s players simply aren’t required to be as tough as those who played 30 or 40 years ago.
Hamlin senior defensive lineman Ethan Byerly is a walking contradiction to that argument — a player so tough, so eager to play the game and create contact, that he often doesn’t even realize he’s injured.
The 2019 campaign was nothing short of a dream season for the Pied Pipers, who closed with a 12-3 record and trip to AT&T Stadium in Arlington where they fell in the Class 2A Division II state title game to Mart.
It was, by all accounts, the best season in Hamlin history.
The question heading into 2020 is, can the Pied Pipers duplicate that success? According to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine, they can — earning a No. 2 preseason ranking by that publication.
In our view, however, there are two key question marks that must be answered before the Pied Pipers can pack their bags for Jerry World.
Football is fast approaching, and we at BigCountryPreps.com are committed to bringing you the information you need to prepare for your favorite team’s season.
We’ll be releasing our Big Country Preps Preseason Football Preview, the most comprehensive look at the upcoming Big Country football season anywhere, on Friday, Aug. 14. But you won’t have to wait until then to sate your gridiron appetite.
Leading up to the first day of fall football practice on Aug. 3, we’ll be spotlighting each 11-man team in the area and posing some of the key questions they’ll face in 2019 as part of our “Countdown to Two-a-Days” series.
We start in Class 2A Division II with the Hamlin Pied Pipers. Friday we will take a quick look at the Roscoe Plowboys, followed by the Albany Lions on Saturday.
The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.
After watching a young team take a nice step forward last spring, Hamlin baseball coach Ryne Lucas had the 2020 season circled as the year his Pied Pipers would finally break through as a district title contender.
And with HHS sporting a top-10 ranking in Class 1A from txhighschoolbaseball.com at the time of the COVID-19 shutdown, it wasn’t just those within the Hamlin city limits that felt bullish about this year’s Pipers.
Unfortunately, Hamlin’s season was cut short by the global pandemic just six games in. But Lucas saw enough during that 3-3 start to believe that the 2020 campaign — truncated though it may have been — could still go down as a positive turning point for his program.
Barely losing to Mart in the Class A Division II football championship game unquestionably stung.
But the Hamlin athletes who assembled eight days later for the team’s first basketball practice on Dec. 27 had a forward-thinking mindset.
“They were still kind of disappointed, but we had a good practice,” coach Joe Thomasson recalled. “For the most part, we played as hard as we could (against Mart). Kids are more resilient than we are as grownups. They were like, ‘We lost, let’s move on.’”
The Pied Pipers have certainly done just that, transferring their gridiron dominance over to the hardwood. After sweeping District 14-A, they enter the playoffs with a 12-1 record and a first-round bye.
HAMLIN — In the 1986 motion picture “Hoosiers” there is a memorable scene in which coach Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman) uses a clever tactic to help his small-town team overcome their feeling of “awe” after arriving at a huge basketball venue.
Taking out a tape measure, Dale instructs some of his players to measure the distance from the baseline to the free throw line and from the floor to the rim. The measurements, of course, were 15 and 10 feet, respectively.
“I think you’ll find these are the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory,” Dale says, making the point that the game is unchanged by all of the fancy surroundings.
Thursday morning at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, a group of green-clad people from Hamlin will meet on the field, where coach Russell Lucas will try to make a similar point.
It’s hard to imagine a third-year starting quarterback on a state semifinalist Texas high school football team being overlooked. Especially when his offense is averaging 47 points and 388 yards per game. And especially when he has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,212 yards and 29 touchdowns against only four interceptions.
But that may be the case with Hamlin’s Braydin Warner.
LAST WEEK: 8-2, .800
SEASON TOTAL: 483-92, .840
With the overall size of the Big Country encompassing more than 75 communities, one thing is nearly always certain: Somebody in a group that big is going to be good enough to make a run a state championship.
And sure enough, heading into December, no fewer than six teams in the Big Country Preps coverage area are still alive on the road to Arlington.
Brock, Hawley, San Saba and Hamlin have all pushed to the regional championship round in their respective classifications in 11-man, while Strawn and Blackwell have reached the state semifinals in six-man.
The task of forecasting it all falls on me, and we’re at the stage where getting it right is a real challenge.
This column is having one of its best seasons ever on pick accuracy, consistently hitting at more than 80 percent on a weekly basis and currently holding at 84 percent on the year. So we shall see.
Here’s a look at this week’s games:
HAWLEY — It took nearly three hours and close to 900 yards of combined total offense to settle the issue.
But once the dust cleared at Hawley High School on Friday, the 10th-ranked 2A DI Bearcats had earned a 46-44 win over top-ranked 2A DII Hamlin in a classic Big Country Preps Game of the Week.
Colton Marshall rushed for 230 yards, three touchdowns and four two-point conversions to lead Hawley (3-0), which forced four Hamlin turnovers to key the win.
LAST WEEK: 46-6, .884
SEASON TOTAL: 89-19, .824
I don’t know what has me more jazzed — the interesting slate of Big Country games we’ve got on tap this week, or the fact that I hit 88 percent of my picks in Week 2 and am at 82 percent for the season.
I don’t mind saying, it’s way too early in to be picking at a rate that high. Normally the 80-percent plateau is crossed in the second half of the season, after you get dialed in on who’s who. But why should I complain? It will give me a leg up on Youngblood.
Our Big Country Preps Game of the Week — Hamlin (2-0) at Hawley (2-0) — was actually circled on the calendar well in advance of the season.
Yes, last year’s matchup resulted in a 32-6 Hamlin win.
But the venue switches to Hawley this time around and unless I’ve missed my guess, the Bearcats are more than motivated after being escorted to the woodshed by the Pipers a year ago.
HAMLIN — Faced with unusually high expectations, a challenging schedule and a couple of heartbreaking finishes in the last five years, the third-ranked Hamlin Pied Pipers and coach Russell Lucas find themselves in uncharted waters early in the 2019 season.
They are now in the position of favorites, with powerful teams from Albany and Wellington, Wheeler, Santo and others pursuing them, rather than the other way around.
How will they handle it?
Lucas now visits with BigCountryPreps.com’s Evan Ren to talk about the current season and the unusual position in which the Pipers find themselves in a Big Country Preps Q&A.
ANSON — A shootout may have been anticipated, but a trench war was what the spectators received Friday when the visiting Hamlin Pied Pipers opened the season with a 27-7 win over Anson at Tiger Stadium.
Jackson Sepeda rushed for 90 yards and two scores and Braydin Warner rushed for 93 and another score to lead Hamlin (1-0), which never trailed in 2019’s first Big Country Preps Game of the Week.
Anson, which was led by Drew Hagler’s 223 yards in total offense and one rushing TD, dropped to 0-1.
Got the truck started yet?
Ready to jump on one of those farm-to-market roads to watch high school football into the late hours on a Friday night?
You’re not alone.
And, as tradition would have it, I tip my cap to those of you who will be hitting the trails each week in search of pigskin. My salute: a preseason menu of sorts.
Each week for the next 11 weeks, Big Country Preps will be searching for its Game of the Week, and we’re already looking ahead. We now present our preliminary list of Big Country Games worth traveling for, but keep in mind: the following list is subject to change as surprises and disappointments emerge.
And as we all know … surprises and disappointments always emerge.
So, without further delay, here is our list of Big Country games worth traveling for in 2019.
I’ll see you on the road.
HAMLIN — To some degree, dunking a basketball is a measure of athletic prowess. But when you’re 6-foot-1 and weigh 299 pounds, having the ability to “jam” borders on unbelievable.
Hamlin defensive lineman Austin “The Beast” Lozano realized this, so he had himself videotaped throwing it down. The display encapsulates the amount of explosive power the senior brings to the table — power that the Hamlin coaching staff plans to take full advantage of this season.
Just where the 17-year-old will line up and how often, is still in the planning stages as the Hamlin staff tries to figure how to minimize the attention he’ll be getting from the opposition.
HAMLIN — If his 95-39 record through 12 seasons at Hamlin doesn’t say it loud enough, coach Russell Lucas has built one of the most consistent football programs in the Big Country.
So when chats at the water cooler include the topic of Lucas having his best team ever this year, that’s significant.
And make no mistake, those preseason conversations are common.
Why shouldn’t they be?
The Pipers return seven offensive and nine defensive starters among 14 lettermen from a 12-2 team.
FEATURED SCHOOLS: Albany, Anson, Baird, Breckenridge, Brock, Brownwood, Clyde, Coahoma, Colorado City, Comanche, Cross Plains, Dublin, Eastland, Forsan, Hamlin, Haskell, Jim Ned, Merkel, Snyder, Stamford, Stephenville, Wall and Winters.
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