Expectations are growing each year for the Granbury Pirates, and that’s a good thing as far as head football coach Scotty Pugh is concerned.
Pugh noted that his players have learned how to win, including their 9-2 season in 2013. That took the Pirates to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. That was the first time the Pirates pulled off that trick since the 1965-68 seasons.
The current seniors have never known a varsity football season without postseason play.
“That (2013) was our first class to graduate where the seniors had been to the playoffs all four years,” said Pugh, starting his seventh season as Granbury’s head coach. “We’re going to miss some of the seniors, without a doubt, but they laid the foundation and set the mark high for this group to follow.
“I think obviously the expectations and the momentum of being in the playoffs four years in a row now is very positive.
“I think the kids set their goals high. Their expectations are to the point where you want them. What the team did last year was a great accomplishment.”
But, as Pugh explained, the 2014 group has something to achieve now.
“They want to write their own legacy, and see what this year has in store,” he said.
It should go without saying that the 800-pound gorilla in Granbury’s District 8-5A alignment is Aledo. The same was true last season when the Pirates were also in the same district (7-4A) with the Bearcats, who have won four state championships in the past five years.
But Pugh sees more than Aledo as a threat to snatch up the four playoff spots.
“I feel like it’s in the top one or two 5A districts in the state,” Pugh said. “From top to bottom it will be extremely tough.”
Pugh noted that district opponents such as Everman, Cleburne, Burleson and Crowley have also been perennial playoff teams over the years.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” he said. “We’re fixing to play one of the toughest 5A schedules out there.”
Senior Dillon Graham and junior Brody Ables are battling for the starting job at quarterback – something Pugh couldn’t have predicted a year ago.
That’s because Ryan Suitt was establishing himself with a 2,200-yard passing season as a junior. He also passed for 24 touchdowns.
But Suitt is gone, having transferred to a private school in the Metroplex.
Graham, an athletic player who stands 6-2 and weighs 200 pounds, was a regional track qualifier as a freshman, Pugh said. He was on the varsity last year and was the primary backup at quarterback.
Ables, 6-0, 180, was the junior varsity starter last season.
“It’s good, healthy competition,” Pugh said. “Those two are splitting reps. Both bring different strengths.”
While Graham may have a stronger arm, Ables tends to be more agile and because of that can be a more dangerous runner, Pugh noted.
One factor the Pirates shouldn’t have to wonder about is their No. 1 running back.
Senior Malik Allen, who rushed for 1,015 yards and 17 TDs last year, is expected to take his talent to the next level.
“We look for great things out of him,” Pugh said of Allen.
Eugene Geis, another senior, also saw significant playing time in the backfield and will help carry the rushing load again along with senior Travis Donahue.
“It will be a little bit by committee, and we kind of like that,” Pugh said of the other running backs.
Pugh noted that Brendon King had a good season as a sophomore as an inside receiver. Michael Mulholland and Thomas Weaver will also contribute as potential receivers.
“Thomas Weaver (6-3, 230)played a lot as a slot receiver,” Pugh said. “Jacob Rose did a little of it all for us. I feel like we have depth at that position.”
The Pirates’ biggest threat at receiver in 2013 – and one of the area’s top wideouts – is back in the fold after temporarily moving away.
Nick Doughty returned to Granbury in July after posting 43 receptions for 890 yards and 8 TDs as a junior.
In Granbury’s first scrimmage, against Wichita Falls Hirschi, Doughty caught a pair of long TD passes from Ables, prompting Pugh to say, “Obviously, we’re extremely happy to have him.”
In their first scrimmage, the Pirates showed a few new offensive wrinkles, using some wing-T and “flex-bone” sets as changeups from the usual spread offense.
The offensive line features experienced performers such as center Briley Pena, along with guards Brendon Seago and Austin Goodnight.
“At tackle we’ll be fairly young, but we have a couple of kids,” Pugh said. “Jordan Papke is a big-bodied kid. Chase Shipman saw a lot of playing time last year.
“We’ve got some young kids that are going to be really good players. It will be important to get them experience early.”
The most notable changes on defense for the Pirates may be in their coaching lineup, including new defensive coordinator Stephen Hodge, a former Dallas Cowboy.
“We have four new coaches on the defensive side, which we’re extremely excited about,” Pugh said. “We got guys that bring experience and knowledge. Scheme-wise, we’ll look a lot different.”
The Pirates had been predominantly a 3-4 defense. But with Hodge’s influence, they will use a base 4-2-5 alignment.
Hodge experienced that set – aka the “nickel” defense – when he played for coach Gary Patterson at TCU, which led the nation in total defense from 2008 through 2010.
“Our kids are excited about that,” Pugh said. “The kids follow TCU. I think it will be a nice change. We have some really good experience on the defensive side.”
Up front, tackles Landon Lambert, Bailey Dunn, Alex Balboa and Kelan Ellison all had significant playing time last season.
“The core group is back,” Pugh said. “That’s very valuable.
“We’re not near as experienced at linebacker. Those guys have got to get their feet wet early.”
Jonas Aguirre and Colton McDonald will be counted on at inside linebacker.
Pugh said that the “hybrid” outside linebacker/safety position will be bolstered by Cody Odom, who is coming off an injury, and Jesse Valdez, who also saw playing time.
Pugh said the secondary is “a mixture of experienced guys and young players.”
The defensive backs will include Evan Sledge, Jacob Rose and Iza Villarreal.
“We’ve got some young guys filling in at the other safety spot,” Pugh said, adding that he’s excited that Davis McDuff is healthy, coming off a broken leg from last year.
“We had a great year, and we look to continue the same this year,” Pugh said of his special-team play.
Rose proved last season that he is one of the better punters and kickers in the region.
“Jacob Rose is a huge weapon at punter,” Pugh said, adding that he often sends kickoffs out of the end zone – eliminating potentially big returns.
“That’s a huge bonus,” Pugh said.
Rose didn’t miss an extra point kick in 2013, and one of his field goals was from 45 yards away.
Kelan Ellison is counted on as a reliable deep snapper.
As for the rest of the special team play, Pugh said, “We’ve got good experience, but we’ve also got some really healthy competition for spots.”
King and Mulholland did a good job of returning kicks and punts last year, and Pugh thinks that experience “carries over” this season.
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Aug. 29 at Azle
Sept. 5 Denton High
Sept. 12 at Corsicana
Sept. 19 Open
* Sept. 26 at Burleson High
* Oct. 3 Everman
* x – Oct. 10 Cleburne
* Oct. 17 at Joshua
* Oct. 24 Burleson Centennial
* Oct. 31 at Aledo
* Nov. 7 Crowley
* District 8-5A games.
x – Homecoming game.
Note: Games start at 7:30 p.m.