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HASKELL — He is 6,000 miles, one culture, one language and one sport away from his home in the Ukraine.
But for 17-year-old Haskell junior Artem Brendle, the wide open spaces and simple living offered by Texas’ Big Country region has him feeling more at home than he ever dreamed. He’s even playing football, as a reserve linebacker for the Indians and in the process, is providing coach Brian Hodnett and his teammates with anecdotes they will likely keep for a lifetime.
Moved to a Ukrainian orphanage due to family issues at the age of 10, Artem was adopted by Chad and April Brendle of Midland when he was 15. A year later, the family moved to Haskell where Artem quickly stood out and became popular — earning the nickname of “Drago” (of Rocky IV fame) from his schoolmates due his Ukrainian accent.
There is reason for optimism in Haskell these days, largely because of numbers — eight returning starters on both sides of the ball among 18 lettermen and an expected roster size of 25 players.
That’s a solid prospectus at the Class 2A level, which leaves fourth-year coach Brian Hodnett hoping for improvement over last year’s 3-8 mark — despite being moved up a division by realignment.
Heading into 2020, the Indians find themselves in District 3-2A DI, with Hawley, Colorado City, Forsan, Anson and Stamford — a challenging league with two teams (C-City and Anson) that have both been moved down from 3A DII.
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.
After featuring Forsan on Friday, we stay in District 3-2A Division I with the Haskell Indians. On Sunday, we will take a look at the Hawley Bearcats, followed by the Stamford Bulldogs on Monday.
HASKELL — If one were to envision what a West Texas high school football player is all about, certain character traits may come to mind.
Hard-working. Coachable. Respectful. Disciplined. And perhaps first and foremost, resistant to adversity — not unlike the traits exhibited by Haskell senior Caleb Wright, who was selected for this feature by the HHS coach staff for the very reasons just listed.
Wright, who will contend for valedictorian honors, isn’t a large player. He stands in at 5-10 and weighs 180 pounds. He isn’t slow, but he won’t create a sonic boom either, checking in with a 40 time of 4.9.
Put simply, he’s not going to be playing at USC after graduation. But pound-for-pound, one would be hard-pressed to find a player who gets more miles per genetic gallon.
HASKELL — More experience, more depth and a greater knowledge of coach Brian Hodnett’s system are all check marks in the plus column for Haskell in 2019.
Whether or not this translates into a better product, however, may depend on the Indians’ ability to replace a few key faces that have been lost to graduation.
Gone are Reed Roewe, Zander Garcia and Aaron Skiles — important contributors to last season’s late flurry that saw the Indians overcome a 1-5 start to finish 4-7 and reach area round of the playoffs. On the plus side, Haskell has seven starters on both sides of the ball among 16 lettermen to act as compensation.
STAMFORD — Entering Thursday’s District 7-2A matchup at Stamford, Haskell coach Eric Simmons knew that his team no margin for error.
Facing Stamford freshman sensation Citlaly Gutierrez (24-0-1) who had already struck out more than 300 hitters on the season, the Maidens had to be nearly perfect.
They fell just short, losing 2-1 in a well-pitched, well-played game by both teams.
HASKELL — Down 22-20 to start the fourth quarter, the fourth-ranked Haskell Maidens scored 15 points over the final eight minutes to knock off the upset-minded Eula Lady Pirates in a 35-29 victory at the legendary Tee Pee.
Leading the way for the Maidens (7-1) was freshmen Melody Martinez, whose five-point outburst late in the fourth quarter helped put away Eula for good. C’Era Taylor, meanwhile, had a team-high eight points and two rebounds for Haskell.
VERNON — Most Cinderellas eventually hand in their slippers.
For unheralded Haskell, a fourth seed out of District 7-2A, that moment came shortly after a 26-12 loss to heavily favored Wheeler in a Division II area-round game Friday at Lions Stadium.
LAST WEEK: 31-6, .837
SEASON TOTAL: 415-91, .820
Normally our playoff forecast is released on Thursdays. But, in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, we’re pushing it out a day early.
I don’t mind saying, it has been a good year for the column, picking at nearly 84 percent in Week 12 and holding at 82 percent on the year.
“(There was) a lot of running around,” Roewe said.
But after passing for 1,252 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushing for 560 yards and four more scores to help the Indians to a 5-6 record and a playoff berth, Roewe expects everyone to be a little more comfortable in Year 2 under coach Brian Hodnett.
The good news for second-year Haskell football coach Brian Hodnett is his Indians will enter the 2018 season with a level of comfort and familiarity they didn’t have this time last year.
The bad news: They’ll be competing with four established and successful programs for one of District 7-2A Division II’s four playoff spots.
Hodnett likes his roster, which brings back eight offensive and seven defensive starters among 12 lettermen. But playing in a league that features No. 5 Albany, No. 12 Hamlin, Roscoe and Cross Plains — all playoff teams a year ago — the Indians will need to consistently execute at a high level to get back to the postseason this fall.
Like Big Country Preps co-founders Evan Ren and Daniel Youngblood, Wichita Falls Time Record News area writer Zach Duncan has been covering high school sports in his market for a long time.
Entering his 15th football season with the Wichita Falls newspaper, Duncan has seen more great games than he can count and worked with some outstanding coaches and players. This week, he took some time to share some his favorite football stories and talk shop with Evan and Daniel.
Also in this episode, Evan and Daniel discuss District 3-3A Division I and District 7-2A Division II — two all-area leagues that should be competitive from top to bottom.