ATLANTA RABBITS @ GILMER BUCKEYES
THURSDAY, AUGUST 29, 7:30 P.M.
BUCKEYE STADIUM, GILMER
LISTEN LIVE (pregame show begins at 7)
At this time last year, Gilmer Buckeye Head Coach Jeff Traylor and his staff faced a major rebuilding challenge. His young, inexperienced team responded with a 14-2 record and a trip to the 3A Division II State Championship Game at Cowboys (Now AT&T) Stadium in Arlington. Because of last year’s success, seven returning offensive starters, six returning defensive starters and the depth the Buckeyes have, the 2013 team comes into the year ranked second in Class 3A, and they are the favorites to win the Division II State Championship in mid-December. That would be icing on the cake because the 2013 season will be even more special due to the fact this is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of football at Gilmer High School. It would be a fitting end to the special season if indeed the Buckeyes can hoist the State Championship trophy at AT&T Stadium in mid-December.
As Gilmer fans are well aware, the incoming seniors on the team each year choose a motto for the season. This year’s mantra is “Deuce: Deuce”, and refers to Revelation 2:2. The Bible verse says “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.”
The application to the football team is separating the true champions from those who claim to be champions but are not.
As usual, at the beginning of our interview, Coach Traylor summed up last year when we talked with him a couple of weeks ago. “We were very fortunate to get to that open week 6-1. There were multiple games that we could have lost. The ball bounced our way, we stayed pretty healthy, and once we got to the open that week, we got pretty good. From the open week on, we were a pretty good football team. We weren’t a great football team, but we were a pretty good football team.”
He continued by discussing where the team is coming into 2013. “This year’s a little different. We’re just starting out with so many kids back we expect to hit the ground running a little faster. It is probably more like what we’re used to seeing in Gilmer with so many kids coming back, but the schedule’s so tough that it could be misleading. Chapel Hill is a very good football team; they’re going to be extremely good. Prestonwood is a very good football team. Gladewater, you know, they play us tough every year. Daingerfield always has a very good football program. We’ve got a lot of people in front of us that are good, so we might be better but it might not look like it because the people we’re playing are better, too.”
We asked Coach Traylor his thoughts of being ranked #2 at the beginning of the year. “If you weren’t any good you wouldn’t be there, so I’d rather be talked about than not talked about. You’ve got to get out of your district, obviously, and we all know how tough that is. Then you get in your region and you’ve got Canton and Van sitting there on you in Round 1, Atlanta or Liberty-Eylau in Round 2 with a lot of talent, then you’ve got Argyle in Round 3, and if you get out of that probably back your district again in Round 4. That’s just your region. You’ve got to get out of your district and out of your region before you can even think about Jerry’s World! We’ve got a long way to go to get to that point.”
The Buckeye boss had great praise for returning starting quarterback Tanner Barr. “So goes the Buckeyes, so goes Tanner, and so goes Tanner, so goes the Buckeyes. He’s the leader; he and Josh (Walker) are fantastic leaders and the kids really believe in him. He runs our offense. He’s a joy to coach, a joy to be around and he’s a fierce competitor. Whatever happens, it won’t be because of Tanner Barr not doing his job.”
With a returning defense led by East Texas Defensive MVP of the year Josh Walker, the 2013 Black Flag Defense could well end up being the best Buckeye defense in the last 14 seasons, and Coach Traylor knows this group is going to be something special.
“We’re excited about our defense, we are. We’ve got some holes to fill in the middle right now that we’re looking at. We lost Witcher at linebacker, we lost Barnes in there. You’ve got John McPherson coming back there, you’ve got Brian Restine competing, you’ve got Harrison competing for that linebacker job, and Hunter Anderson, along with Darrian Lewis at outside linebacker. He had a great spring for us. He’s going to be very good as well. You’ve got linebackers and safeties to replace and that is right up the gut. The corners are back in DeVondrick Dixon and Kris Boyd and Dakeilan Nelson has had a great offseason and we’re expecting great things from Dakeilan. At safety, we’ve got Charles Williams, Nick Smith, Blevin Burns and Ardarius Johnson. There’s some new kids, and we feel really good about the ones we have coming back.”
The receivers on offense are a solid group this year as well, and we asked the coach if the talent and depth at that position will open up the passing game more and reduce the amount of the offense run out of the pistol formation this year.
“We will just be more balanced. We feel like we’ll have weapons at every spot, and we haven’t been that way for a long time, so we feel like we have the ability to score in almost every position. It’s been a while since we had that. We’ll be balanced. It won’t be as much pistol, but we will still run the pistol, but we’ll be also off-set. We’ll run one back and two back and three back sets. We’ll be a lot more multiple, one because of the kids and two because they have experience. We can teach them more because they already know so much more and they’re good players, so I would expect to see more offense.”
Focusing on the district schedule, we asked Coach Traylor’s thoughts about the competition there. “The only people that think we have more talent than Chapel Hill or Kilgore are Gilmer homers, and you are one! All you have got to do is drive through Tyler and drive through Kilgore to realize their towns are a lot bigger than ours and they have got a lot of players and we don’t have more talent than those two teams. We have as much talent, but we don’t have more. You are very seldom going to out-talent Kilgore and Chapel Hill. We’ve got to go on the road to both those places and I think those will be two unbelievable games, and then you can’t forget about Gladewater. People can’t forget about them. They always play us tough and then you’ve got Henderson and they gave us all we could handle last year. The only team the experts probably don’t expect would be Spring Hill, but they’ve got a lot of kids returning and they’ve got a new coach in Coach Sartain, so they’ll be all excited. We’ve got to go over there and that’s never a lot of fun going over there. I know it’s just coach talk in you guys’ eyes, but it’s one game at a time and we want to get one of those top four spots and get in the playoffs and get ready to roll. Obviously, our goal is to win a State Championship every year, but we understand the way to do that is start with the Atlanta Rabbits and focus on them and just take the schedule one game at a time. I know that’s corny coach talk to you guys in the media, but it is true. It’s okay for me to talk about that but we can’t get too wrapped up in that or we won’t be ready.”
Coach Traylor reminded us that no matter how good you are things can change in a heartbeat. He is very excited about his team, but knows things could quickly change. “In this sport you’re one injury away from being like everybody else. We’ve faced some terrible injuries in Gilmer over the years. I don’t want to say it has cost us State Championships, but when you lose kids it’s hard to replace them. We’re preparing for the worst. We’re preparing our backups in case that happens. You look at last year and we stayed very healthy and kept them all out there. We’ve got to keep practicing with them. We’ve have to get better. We just became better and became a team last year. The Gladewater game, Jaidon Parrish got hurt the first play of the game. We were off the rest of the night. Maybe I am more confident today because they’re out there, but tomorrow they might not be out there; they might be injured. There’s a lot of things that can happen in this business. Grades, girls, injuries; there are a lot of things. They are teenage boys. You and I have put more thought into this season in this little 20-minute interview than those kids have all summer. They were out swimming, tubing, lifting weights, running and seeing how many people they could Facebook.”
One big change in Class AAA this season is the addition of a fourth team from each district earning a playoff spot. We asked the Buckeye boss his thoughts about the change. “I don’t think it’s bad, I don’t. It’s close to the Little League deal where everybody is getting a trophy, but at the same time it wasn’t fair for Bullard last year. That was a terrible thing, so what’s the big deal. It means a ton to the community and means the community is going to be happy. It means they’re not going to want to fire their coach and the coach gets to keep his job, and in my business it’s all about keeping your job. You’re going to eliminate the bad ones in one week anyway. I understand it looks bad, but there are too many good teams these days. Football’s gotten a lot better. Programs are better and communities want to be good.”
We closed our preseason interview asking the coach’s thoughts about the intimidation factor the newly rebuilt home side of Buckeye Stadium with the new backlit “G” logos and “Home of the Buckeyes” glaring in their faces would provide to the visiting team and fans and about the new surface that has been installed on the track.
“I just like how much higher it is. The fans are on us more. We had to do that so we could get everybody in the stadium, but the angle is much steeper, so I think our crowd is going to be much louder now. It will hold 3000 on the home side now. We’ve increased the seating by about 1000 more people. You’ve got approximately 1100 more orange seats now. I just am worried about us having those orange seats filled up because they’re reserved seats. It would look really bad if we have 1100 orange seats and there’s 200 of them that are empty. It’s going to stick out like a sore thumb because that orange is so bright. I’m a little worried about that but I hope our fans will help us and if they’re not going to be at the game that they’ll either sell their ticket or give it to somebody because we’d like this place to be packed. Just the factor that of being home will give us a big advantage, but yeah, I’m excited about it and glad everybody has a seat. If we could just have a parking garage about six stories tall and everybody could get parked then everybody would be happy on Friday night.”
“We’re excited about it (the new track surface). We’ve got a really good track team returning and we were down to the asphalt, so it was time to redo it. We got seven years out of it, or maybe eight years. I love the texture and it’s just beautiful. I know me being here probably makes it more special, but I’m pretty fond of Gilmer and I think we deserve the best and now we’ve got the best, so tremendous kudos to Mr. Albritton and the school board for getting that done and our community for endorsing it. I’ve heard no negatives. I’ve heard nothing but great things. Everybody’s excited about the season. I just hope we can hold up our end of the deal.”
Kickoff of the 2013 season will be at 7:30 tomorrow night at the newly renovated Buckeye Stadium. Be sure to do your part by being in your seat before kickoff, making as much noise as you can and cheering the Bucks on to a win over the Rabbs. It is going to be another great year, and as always, it’s great to be a Gilmer Buckeye!