Atlanta Rabbits vs. Gilmer Buckeyes
Trinity Mother Frances Football Classic
TMF Rose Stadium, Tyler, 7:30 p.m.
FOR THE seventh year in a row, the Gilmer Buckeyes are one of the teams playing in TITUS Sports Marketing’s Trinity Mother Frances Football Classic at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in Tyler. All but two of those games have been in what has become known as Week Zero/Zero Week, the last week of August when school is just getting started, and the opener Thursday night against the Atlanta Rabbits will be no exception.
The first few years the game was known as the East Texas Football Classic and at some point along the way the playing surface was renamed Earl Campbell Field in honor of the great football player who got his start there playing for the John Tyler Lions nearly 40 years ago.
By whatever name, Gilmer’s performances in these games on Week Zero or Week One Thursday nights have been impressive.
2004: Gilmer 48, Pine Tree 7
2005: Gilmer 45, Pine Tree 16
2006: Gilmer 56, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman 14
2007: Gilmer 71, Tatum 28
2008: Gilmer 56, Jasper 28
2009: Gilmer 76, Rains 12
HOWEVER, Gilmer Head Coach Jeff Traylor is trying to downplay expectations that this year’s edition of the Buckeyes will match or exceed their average output in the “Classic” of nearly 59 points per game.
“I’d bet on the ‘under,’” he quipped, and then laughed out loud as if to signal how preposterous he thought the question was.
“That’s the furthest thing from our mind right now,” he added. “We just want to find a way to win.”
Traylor and his teams have found a way to do just that 112 times in the last 10 seasons in Gilmer and have failed to do that only 17 times.
In the last seven seasons, Gilmer has only lost seven times, with three of those losses to the eventual state champion. The Buckeyes have won state titles twice since the inauguration of the “Classic” and are the defending Class 3A Division I champions.
THE BUCKEYES have several streaks going, among them nine consecutive undefeated district championships, 44 consecutive district wins and 34 consecutive wins at home. They also have the 15-game winning streak from having gone 15-0 last season.
However, despite being ranked No. 7 in Class 3A statewide in the Associated Press poll released last week, this year’s team is flying under the radar compared with previous seasons. Losing 31 players to graduation has caused media attention to shift elsewhere.
“We had to replace basically everybody,” Traylor said. That’s perhaps the main reason for the relative lack of respect accorded the 2010 Gilmer Buckeyes.
So during the hottest August he’s had to endure since he’s been coaching here (it’s often been 88 to 90 degrees even at 9 p.m. during the second practice and you don’t even want to know what the “heat index” has been), Coach Traylor and his staff have been looking for the “hot hands” on offense and defense to fill 17 or 18 open starting positions.
“We’re starting to get some players in the right spots. So we should start getting better here pretty soon ‘cause we’re leaving kids alone.
“We’re moving kids around so much trying to find where they ought to play that they haven’t had a good chance to learn their position yet. We’re trying to get the best 22 on the field.”
And even though there are 29 seniors listed on the 2010 roster, that is a very misleading figure, Traylor said.
“In the past when we got ahead of people, the underclassmen were the backups and got a lot of reps. Last year the seniors were the backups, too. That team was so deep, even the backups were their classmates.”
It doesn’t take long to name the five experienced guys who return. They are Gus Johnson and Luke Turner on offense (and both have also played a lot on defense), and Ty Barr, Chris Miller and Eric Miller on defense. All but Turner are seniors.
Gilmer also has a solid kicking game in place, with senior Adan Olivares teeing it up.
The 2010 Buckeyes are “undersized” compared to past teams and obviously do not have the depth of last year’s team. Traylor said some players will have to go both ways, at least some of the time.
But, on a positive note, the team is also very “focused” and not looking ahead at all, because it has something to prove, observed the coach.
ATLANTA has a 26-14 all-time record against Gilmer, but has lost the last two meetings in 2006 and 2007 — 49-12 and 42-14. The Rabbs are coached by Ronnie Melton, who is beginning his third year at the helm. His first two seasons, the Rabbits went 2-8 and 3-7.
In fact, Atlanta has not had a winning season since 2003 when, as everyone in Gilmer still well remembers, the Rabbits won state. They last made the playoffs in 2006.
“They’re big and fast; physical. Got a lot of kids (six or seven) playing both ways.” Traylor commented.
Atlanta scrimmaged here in 2008 and then the Rabbs hosted Gilmer in a scrimmage last year, but since then they have radically changed their offense. They no longer run the spread, but now employ the run-oriented “I” formation, said Traylor.
“Tailback’s really good. He’s a sophomore named (Corion) Webster. He can really go. He’s also a starting cornerback.
“They have a big ol’ offensive guard. They’ve got some big, big linemen.”
Coach Melton told the Atlanta Citizens Journal after the Rabbits’ annual intrasquad Maroon and White Scrimmage that he considered his team to be “ahead of schedule” in terms of execution. Then last Thursday, Atlanta traveled to Jefferson to scrimmage the Bulldogs and came out ahead both in the controlled portion and the timed quarter, with its first team scoring once in each and shutting out Jefferson in both.
TRAYLOR SAID the fact so many of the Rabbits play both ways is not much cause for comfort, considering the fact that the state champion Atlanta team which eliminated Gilmer, 34-14, in the quarterfinals in 2003 (on the same field they’ll be playing on Thursday night) had seven or eight players going both ways. It’s just the way they’ve always done it in Rabbitland.
Contrast that philosophy with that of the Buckeyes:
“We try to play 25 to 28 kids every ball game,” said Traylor.
He added that this helped the participation rate in football at Gilmer because more kids know they’ll have a chance to play.
The Buckeyes have looked sharp for the most part on offense during the two scrimmages this month, even with all the changes, including trying to break in two new quarterbacks.
Asked why that might be the case, Traylor said, “I just think it’s because we start with them so young. We literally start with them in the fifth and sixth grade now, over at the Intermediate (School), so they’ve been doing the same system. There’s no telling how many reps these kids have had.”
After the opener, the Buckeyes face a September full of worthy opponents, including a 4A school, Jacksonville, and a 2-time defending 2A state champion, Daingerfield. Tatum and Liberty-Eylau also have multiple, fairly recent championships in their pedigree. The good news is three of the four games next month are at home.
“I believe the secret to this team is going to be, with the schedule being so tough, how do you overcome adversity, ‘cause you’re gonna get injured, you might even lose a couple of games, because you’re playing such good people. Who can handle that?
“To use a golf analogy, you’ve got to let that last bad swing go and just play the next shot.
“It’s gonna be a grind. You’ve just gotta persevere.
“Whether we’re 5-0 or 0-5, the key is you want to be healthy and be playing good football when you get to Gladewater (the first district game on Oct. 8 and also the Buckeyes’ homecoming).”
Although he repeatedly emphasized that this team will likely be a good one, he said it’s not there yet.
“For the first time since probably ‘01, we don’t know if we’re going to get in (the playoffs). So it’s hard to speculate about Round Six or Round Five of the playoffs when you don’t know if you’re going to be in Round One.”
“But I don’t want to ever come across as negative,” he concluded. Every team here has as its goal to win it all and this one is no different. The players are ready and even “eager,” he said, to show what this team can do as they carry on the rich tradition of the Gilmer Buckeyes.
OF COURSE, modesty always becomes a coach, but some might suggest that if naming rights to games were based on performances rather than corporate contributions, another typical Buckeyes performance Thursday night should lead to a movement to rename the event the “Gilmer Buckeyes Football Classic.”
However, there ARE two other games being played at TMF Rose and anyone who buys a ticket to the Gilmer game qualifies for admission to them as well.
Friday night at 7:30 p.m., John Tyler and Lufkin collide while Saturday night at 9 p.m. Euless Trinity plays Tyler Lee. The late kickoff is because the finalé will be nationally televised as part of the 8-game “ESPN RISE High School Football Kickoff” schedule (Aug. 27-28-29; check your local listings).
DID YOU KNOW: Gilmer is the only team in Texas nicknamed the Buckeyes and Atlanta is the only one nicknamed the Rabbits. (Three other teams are known as Jackrabbits.)
BUCKEYE TICKET LINE:
LUNCH WITH THE COACH:
Noon Wednesdays, Buckeyes Booster Club meets at Gilmer Country Club.
Gilmer Buckeye Tailgate Party, Thursday, Aug. 26 at 5:30 p.m. on the home side parking lot of Tyler’s TMF Rose Stadium. $5 buys a hot dog, drink, chip and a cookie! Sponsored by GHS Cheer Booster Club.
Above is the direct link to the new live audio stream, which will also be accessible via GilmerBuckeyes.com .
Gilmer is 9-1 in season openers under Jeff Traylor (only loss: 20-14 Gladewater 2001
Gilmer has a 6 game winning streak in the TMF Football Classic
Gilmer is 6-0 in the TMF Football Classic
Gilmer has a 6-game winning streak at TMF Rose Stadium (last loss: 61-58 Canton, 11-18-2005)
Gilmer is 10-2 under Jeff Traylor in games played at TMF Rose Stadium
(Notes provided by Joe Dodd.)