Football is finally here. After months of wondering if and when football will be back, the El Campo Ricebirds will open the 2020 season with an away game against the Gonzales Apaches.
The Ricebirds come into the season different than last year, no longer are they underdogs. Preseason polls have El Campo ranked as the ninth-best team in the state after finishing last season with a 10-3 record. The pressure that comes with being a top team isn’t anything new for El Campo.
“As long as I’ve been here and as long as I’ve coached against El Campo, there is always eyes on El Campo,” Ricebirds Head Coach Wayne Condra said. “This program goes back (decades). People expect El Campo to have a very good football and solid football team, it’s no different this year. It’s a tradition that’s been built over the many years. It’s a new year. I know expections are high, but that was preseason stuff. We’ve got to go out and earn it.”
Living up to the top 10 ranking starts with a good showing Friday.
The Apaches are in 4A D2 Region IV District 13. Gonzales last season went 8-3. Their only losses were to undefeated Beeville Jones (El Campo beat them in the playoffs), Navarro and Lampasas, both went at least four rounds deep. The Apaches have made it to the second round of the playoffs the last two seasons.
“They’re a very good football team. They’re big up front offensively. They like to come right at you with the run, they’re big on the offensive line. They’re kind of a spread two back look, they run the power, they’ll run some sweeps and play-action pass,” Condra said. “They run a 50, on defense so they’re very aggressive. It’s going to be one of those games that we’ve got to establish on both sides of the football.”
The Ricebirds running offense will get a test against the Apaches defense which employs an extra lineman. The Apaches last season allowed 20 points a game while El Campo pounded out 30.
Offensive line consistency will be a big factor Friday. El Campo’s running backs picked up big yards at times against Sweeny, but after watching film Condra saw yards left on the field. If the line and the backs can take a step forward against a tough Apache line, it could pay off big.
“We’ve got some (linemen) that have not taken varsity snaps and we’re going to have to build on that every week,” Condra said. “On the flip side, our backs missed some holes and we can’t do that either.”
While El Campo isn’t known for their passing, the pass blocking from the offensive line was good in their scrimmage against Sweeny, Condra said.
Coming into his now second-year as the Ricebirds quarterback, senior Cullen Braden might be asked to unleash his arm and throw the ball more than last season.
El Campo will have to be warry of Apache’s senior middle linebacker Zachary Box who was a force for them last season. Box was four tackles shy of 100, eight tackles for a loss and seven sacks.
The Ricebirds defense will get a chance to carry over their success in their scrimmage to their first game. Gonzales’ offense last season averaged 22 points a game, while El Campo held people to 16.
Gonzales graduated a dual-threat quarterback, but they do have a talented running back who returned. Senior running back Dillen Ramos averaged nearly eight yards a carry last season plowing the path for him will be a large offensive line.
El Campo might not have size in their defensive front, but they do have a lot of power in juniors Clarence Farrow and Thomas Martinez and a speed option in junior Johntre Davis if they do need him. Playing technically sound will be big for the Ricebirds.
“We’ve got to be getting to our right spots and taking care of the proper gaps,” Condra said.
Without a game next week, this will be the only chance for the Ricebirds to stretch their wings and show that last season was no fluke.