Not since the 1960s have the Granbury Pirates been to the playoffs three consecutive seasons.
But if they listened to most prognosticators the past couple of seasons they’d still be looking for their first bidistrict berth since 1977.
“It’s been nice around here the past couple of seasons, and of course we’d like to keep that going,” said Scotty Pugh, who is heading into his fifth season as head coach.
“We’re going to be younger this season, but if things work out it’ll not only be a good thing this year, but also for the future.”
The Pirates lost 37 seniors to graduation for a second straight season. They were also placed in a new district (albeit still called 7-4A) thanks to the University Interscholastic League’s biennial realignment.
The new district includes three-time defending state champion Aledo. It also has Fort Worth toughies Southwest and Arlington Heights.
Most publications who make high school predictions have the Pirates battling with Fort Worth Wyatt for the fourth and final playoff berth.
With four offensive starters returning and five on defense, the cupboard is far from bare for the Pirates, who are coming off a 5-6 season that saw them finish third in district. They lost 36-3 in bidistrict to Killeen.
The two biggest questions connected to the offense are: How well will senior running back Justice Love (81 carries, 372 yards, 5 TDs) adapt to being the top running threat? And, with only returning starter on the offensive line, senior left guard Barry Beadle, how strong will the blocking be?
Love will be stepping into the shoes of record-setting running back Brandon Davis (1,808 yards, 24 TDs), who is now at Louisiana Tech.
“I think Justice learned a lot last year and played well,” said Pugh. “He understands his role.
“He gained some invaluable experience playing alongside Brandon.”
Pugh is also counting on Love to be a strong receiver out of the backfield, as was Davis.
“Justice’s natural position is slot receiver. He catches the ball real well,” said Pugh.
Also returning as offensive starters are senior Briley Wood, who can play a variety of positions (including running back and quarterback), and junior split receiver Daniel Arnett.
Arnett, who also punts along with Wood, missed much of last season with an injury.
“He’s come back strong and is doing well,” Pugh said.
For the first time Pugh’s spread offense may not have a senior starting quarterback at the helm. Sophomore Ryan Suitt has been working with the first team, while senior Cameron Hatfield and sophomore Colton McDonald have been handling backup duties.
“He’s got the tools. He’s going to mature fast,” said Pugh of Suitt. “He’s a smart kid.
“He throws the ball well. Accuracy is his biggest attribute.”
Wood will likely move around to different spots, Pugh said.
“He is so versatile. He’s just an athletic kid, and that’s so nice to have,” Pugh said.
One thing the Pirates are definitely not short on is receivers. No less than eight could find themselves catching the ball this season, Pugh said.
“We’ve got a little depth at receiver, and that’s nice – especially with a new quarterback,” said Pugh. “It gives him some options.”
While the 240-pound Beadle returns the only starting experience on the offensive line, Pugh has confidence in several others who will likely be playing around him. They include the likes of senior Juan Gutierrez at right guard, junior Garrett King at center (moved over from linebacker), senior Austin Bradley at left tackle, and junior Ian McMasters at right tackle.
In all, the Pirates will average around 235 pounds on the offensive line, Pugh said.
“We’re not as big as we’ve been, but we’ve got good movement,” he said.
Last season the Pirates averaged 368.4 yards of offense, fourth in district.
Four of the five returning starters are senior linebackers Caleb Bendewald, Ashton Goodson, Zach Patterson and Nathan Urbanovsky. The other is senior cornerback Kwaun Shaw.
“That’s the quarterback of your defense,” Pugh said of the linebackers. “It’s like you’ve got coaches on the field.
The Pirates will try hard to capitalize on the experience returning at linebacker by operating out of a 3-4 defense.
The frontrunners for starting jobs on the defensive line include senior Brandon Lane, juniors Tristan Gilmore and Alex Brown, and sophomore Landon Lambert. Shaw will have some young company in the defensive backfield this season as well, with sophomores Evan Sledge, Jacob Rose and Taylor Petty expected to battle for starting jobs, along with junior Kevin Hennard.
“We’re talking about guys who are going to mature fast,” said Pugh.
Last season the Pirates were third in defense, surrendering an average of 313.3 yards.
Along with Arnett and Wood handling the punting duties, Rose and sophomore Josh Garcia will battle for the top kicker slot.
Gilmore returns as deep snapper, and Pugh calls him one of the best around.
“He’s got a chance to do it at the next level (college),” Pugh said.
For the first time since Pugh became GHS coach the Pirates are two deep at punter and placekicker.
As for kick returners, Pugh said the job is up for grabs, with Love, Arnett, Shaw, Sledge, Goodson, Rose and Hennard likely to get a chance.
“That’s another nice situation and a luxury we’ve not had in the past,” he said. “That’s a lot of guys who can be dangerous returning kicks.”
Pugh said that despite the loss of 37 seniors, the Pirates and their faithful are now of a mind set that has them expecting to be in the running for the postseason.
“The Aledos, Stephenvilles and such, because of the experience those kids get in the playoffs year after year, nothing’s a complete shock to them,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young players this season, but they know what’s expected of our program now, and they’re ready to do their part and keep this success going.”
Pugh also reminded folks that last season the Pirates got off to a 1-3 start that included losing their first district game at rival Cleburne, 41-27. They rebounded to go 4-2 over their final six regular-season games.
“If everybody will be patient, it could pay off later,” he said.
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