Saying you believe and proving it to yourself are two entirely different things.
The Tolar coaches and players said they were ready to compete at the Class 2A level in football when they were moved up starting in 2010 by UIL realignment after years in Class A.
Last year they qualified for the 2A playoffs for the first time in school history, and Franklin indicated that was a bit of a mental breakthrough that he has seen in preseason workouts.
“Just our whole attitude was different last year,” Franklin said. “Last year we were still unsure of our 2A status, and if we could compete.”
Franklin noted that high school football often is just as mental as it is physical, and said “these kids last year figured out what they could do.
“Last year the juniors and sophomores developed an attitude of ‘anywhere, anytime’ – we were going to play, it doesn’t matter. And that attitude is going to carry over. We’re going to go out there knowing we’ve got a chance to win every time we step on the field.”
The Rattlers finished 6-1 in District 6-2A, Division II – runner-up to state finalist Mildred. After beating Holliday 23-20 in overtime in biddistrict, their season ended at 9-3 in the area round of the playoffs with a 35-12 loss to Gunter.
“We just want to finish what we started last year,” Franklin said. “They want to go farther. Two rounds into the playoffs isn’t enough. They liked the taste of that playoff victory, and they want more of it. They worked real hard all summer.”
Franklin said his number one concern entering the season is keeping most of the team healthy, which was a positive factor last season – as opposed to the year before when a rash of injuries threw a wrench into the works.
Overall speed will insure that the Rattlers will be able to compete with any team on their schedule.
“Overall, this may be the fastest team I’ve ever had here,” Franklin said. “I would bet we’re going to be as fast or faster than anybody.”
Franklin said he expects that Mildred will be the team to beat in district play, once again, featuring running back Draylon Sterling, who rushed for almost 2,000 yards while helping lead the team to the state title game and a 13-2 record.
Tolar fans – and coaches – have one more season to enjoy the talents of all-state running back Cory Solomon. His 1,723 rushing yards in 2012 is believed to be a single-season Rattler record. He also utilized his combination of speed and strength to score 24 touchdowns in his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season.
“He’s the best (running back) I’ve coached,” Franklin said. “He’s one of those kids, when you play, other players all know who he is. He’s got speed, he’s got power – he never quits running. He just has fun. He’s a fun kid to coach.”
The hard working-Solomon has not changed, Franklin said, other than getting a little stronger because of his devotion to weightlifting.
“That hasn’t changed. He works hard and loves the weight room,” Franklin said. “He has not put on a whole lot of weight, but he has gotten stronger. It looks like his vision is better – seeing things making a cut.”
The Rattlers are also blessed with an abundance of talent at quarterback, with two experienced and multi-talented returning lettermen – senior Corbin Wood (906 yards, 12 TDs in 2012) and junior Dakota Endsley.
“We feel fortunate to have both of them,” Franklin said. “Both are very smart young men – good athletes and they’re going to play. Speed-wise they’re both even. They both throw the ball well, in the pocket and on the run.”
Franklin does want to settle the question of who will be considered the starting quarterback, however, by the start of district play.
He said the decision will be based on “points on the board,” adding, “We’re going to look for the quarterback that produces,”
A long list of receivers should provide plenty of depth, including Kaleb Gilliam, Garrett Winston, Blake Watson and Dalton Shaw – and also Wood or Endsley in the mix depending on who’s under center.
“They all catch the ball, they’re all running good routes,” Franklin said. “That’s one place we don’t have a problem with depth.”
Top candidates for fullback are juniors Nathan Langston and Gordon Lewis, Franklin said. Junior Hunter Ryan, who started all 12 games at center last year, along with senior T.J. Foster, will be the most likely to play in the slot position. Connor Huckabee is switching from fullback to guard on offense, and from linebacker to defensive line.
The offensive line will feature more size, while retaining overall quickness speed, Franklin noted.
“Last year we had only one player over 200 pounds on the offensive line,” the coach said. “This year the offensive line is closer to 185, 210, 225, 220, 220 and 240. We’re excited about them working hard. We’ve still got some question marks. We’re hoping to have five offensive starters that don’t start on defense.”
Franklin said that the defensive line once was a question mark, but now may be one of the team’s strengths.
Aaron Platt and Kaleb Crawford are returning starters on the line. Others competing for spots will include Connor Huckabee, Alec Elder, Jose Becerra, Clay Greenwell, Clay Foster and Dalton Webb.
Linebacker candidates include returning starters Rodie Brister and Ryan, along with seniors Conner Robinson and Foster, and Lewis, Blayne Denton, Nathan Langston and Solomon.
“They are very fast, and cover a lot of ground in a hurry,” Franklin said of the linebackers.
The secondary consists of the same names as the receivers, including Wood and Endsley at the safety spots. Wood played linebacker last year when on defense. Cornerback is up for grabs, between Giliam, Watson and Shaw.
The kickoffs, field goals and extra points will be handled by Garrett Winston or Dalton Shaw, Franklin said. Winston may have the edge on kickoffs.
Wood was last year’s punter, and it’s likely to remain that way. Franklin said that, in normal circumstances, Wood will continue to use the “rugby” sideways kicking style, running toward the line of scrimmage to test running possibilities before booting his trademark end-over-end punts.
Last sesaon, Tolar’s junior varsity squad was 9-1.
Also, four seniors on the varsity who didn’t play last year could add some firepower. They include basketball standout T.J. Foster, a tight end and linebacker; lineman Alec Elder, who tranferred back after attending school one semester at Boswell; Walker Shelton, a safety and wide receiver; and Clay Greenwell, who missed his junior year for medical reasons.
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Date Opponent Time
Aug. 30 San Saba 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 Comanche 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 at De Leon 7:30 p.m.
*Sept. 27 at Dallas Life Oak 7:30 p.m.
*Oct. 4 Millsap (HC) 7:30 p.m.
*Oct. 11 Scurry-Rosser 7:30 p.m.
*Oct. 18 at Mildred 7:30 p.m.
*Oct. 25 Blooming Grove 7:30 p.m.
*Nov. 1 at Rice 7:30 p.m.
*Nov. 8 Rio Vista 7:30 p.m.
* = 6-2A Division II game