By the time Friday rolls around, it will have been more than 280 days since the El Campo Ricebirds played a football game, and they’ll see the Gonzales Apaches at Ricebird Stadium to open the season.
The Apaches this season should look different than the team the Ricebirds beat 35-0 on the road to start last year.
Gonzales last season went 1-9 and missed the playoffs. The same coaching staff the season before went 9-2 and made the second round of the playoffs. The Apaches return three all-district players in first-team punter Jared Cook (senior), second-team inside linebacker Cesar Matamoros (senior) and second-team wide receiver Braden Barfield (senior).
Gonzales was young last season and while they lost, that youth gained experience.
“They’re well-coached. That coach has been there for a while and they’re very multiple on offense,” Ricebirds Head Coach Chad Worrell said.
The Apaches last season averaged 22.4 points per game.
El Campo’s defense is preparing to see two different styles of offenses this Friday.
“We’re having to prepare for the spread look, they’re going to throw the ball around,” Worrell said. “And we’re having to prepare for the Slot-T, which is a run-based offense, but they’’ ll throw out of it too.”
Throughout El Campo’s two scrimmages the defense has been aggressive, causing pressure and creating turnovers, by picking off passes. However, the Ricebirds are still in the beginning stages of learning Worrell’s defensive system.
El Campo’s run defense stuffed Gonzales last season. If Gonzales opts for more passes against El Campo, they’ll be testing the backend of the Ricebirds defense which is still evolving. Gonzales will also employ a sugar huddle, which will force El Campo to get into the right alignments quickly, Worrell said.
The Gonzales defense had a rough go last season allowing 42.1 points per game. Their defense is full of returners, including their top five tacklers.
“They’ve got really athletic guys,” Worrell said. “They’re linebackers can really run to the football. They’ve got a two-way starter who’s one of their best receivers also plays corner, so you don’t want to throw the ball up to him. Offensively we’re going to have to make sure we’re prepared for some different changes and looks up front, they’ll adjust and we’ll have to execute our blocks.”
El Campo senior Isaiah Anderson will get the nod to start at quarterback against Gonzales. He’ll hand off to two of the better running backs in the state in senior Johntre Davis and junior Rueben Owens II. Anderson during scrimmages has been called on to throw the ball and if unleashed, he should be able to catch Gonzales off guard with them trying to stop Owens and Davis.
The Ricebird offense last year averaged 39.5 points per game, the best offensive output they’ve had in the last 16 years.
After Spring football, the offseason, practices and scrimmages, excitement is building for Friday.
“It’s nice to get into a routine and I’m excited about having the atmosphere at home here with the fans with the first couple of games at home. Hopefully, we’ll put on a good product here on the field for the fans,” Worrell said.
The Ricebrids’ first three games will be at home. It will be hard to leave Ricebird Stadium, including practices, scrimmages and games, El Campo will have spent the first nine weeks at home.