Of the six teams inside the Wharton County Newspapers coverage area, only two teams missed the playoffs, three won district championships and one came one game away from playing for the state title.
East Bernard went the deepest last season, making it five rounds before losing to the eventual state 3A Division II champions. Rice Consolidated went three rounds, Wharton went two rounds and Louise lost in the first round.
El Campo and Boling, normally are playoff fixtures but both missed the playoffs for the first time in years.
Over the past week, the El Campo Leader-News visited each of the six teams to find out a little bit more about their upcoming seasons.
Practices, outside of Midnight Madness for Rice Consolidated, have been hot, but each team is filled with excitement about what’s to come.
Throughout the first week of practice, teams haven’t been able to do too much. Every team spent time going over the basics, but the theme of each practice was compete. Whether it’s running during conditioning or working on different types of drills, the coaches expected everyone to give their all.
For the first two days of practice, only helmets were allowed. On the third and fourth day, players could start adding pads and today contact is allowed.
Everything below is from the head coaches during their Football All-Access interviews. The complete interviews can be found on the Leader-News.com, the Journal-Spectator.com and our sports Facebook page Wharton County Newspapers Sports.
The El Campo Ricebirds for the first time in over a decade missed the playoffs.
The Ricebirds went 3-7 on the season. Three losses were decided by seven points or less.
“(Our season) started off very promising,” El Campo Head Coach Wayne Condra said. “Our kids had a great offseason, a great summer. We came in and had two really good scrimmages and we were able to start putting some pieces together as far as the puzzle is concerned. The first two games, came off pretty strong then we started to have some injuries here and injuries there and things just started falling off for us. I know we didn’t finish the way we wanted to, but our kids never gave up. We fought every game and we were in most every game we played. We had our chances, we just didn’t finish and that’s what we’ve been focusing on. We got to finish this year.”
After being district favorites for years, the Ricebirds are in unfamiliar territory. This year Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine, picked the Ricebirds to finish last in the district.
“There aren’t very many people high on the Ricebirds. My comment to that was you need to come on Friday night,” Condra said. “The thing about it is, the Birds are going to be back.”
The Louise Hornets are going through a little bit of a transformation this upcoming season. After three years with Head Coach Heath Clawson, the Hornets will now look to longtime Assistant Coach Joe Bill to continue their tradition of making it to the playoffs. Last season, the Hornets went 3-8 and came close to making to the second round of the playoffs for the second straight season.
The Hornets this year will be looking to rebuild on the fly after losing key seniors through graduation at the skill positions.
“I think we’re going to have a decent line this year, our line is pretty good,” Bill said. “(I’ll be watching) the quarterback and fullback position (during camp). That backfield is what we’re having to replace.”
Through graduation, the Hornets lost nearly 2,000 yards on the ground.
“That whole offensive set is gone, so we’re having to replenish and replace those guys,” Bill said.
The Rice Consolidated Raiders after missing the playoffs in 2017, went three rounds deep underneath first-year Head Coach Jared Solan. The Raiders won the district championship before losing to Edna in the regional round.
“We had a great year last year, solid senior class that bought in and helped us get going in the right direction and finish 11-2,” Solan said. “Obviously everyone has the ultimate goal of playing in December and playing for a state championship. We fell short of that last year, but I was really proud of our kids and the season that we had because we did a lot of great things.”
The East Bernard Brahmas last season took the Newton Eagles to the limit in the fifth round of the playoffs, losing by one score. Newton would go on to become the 3A Division II state champions.
The loss to Newton is something that still fuels the team going into the season.
“To be that close was a good thing, but it also still stings,” Brahmas Head Coach Wade Bosse said. “When we came back from Christmas, they were hungry and they’re still hungry right now. That wasn’t good enough. So we’re extremely excited that they have that attitude.”
The Boling Bulldogs last season missed the playoffs for the first time in years. The Bulldogs finished the year 2-8. In district, outside of a blowout loss to Rice Consolidated, the Bulldogs other three losses were close games.
“Our goal is to always have a winning record and make the playoffs,” Head Coach Kevin Urbanek said. “The thing we’ve been saying around here the last few years is give yourself a chance to play in December, anything can happen once you get into the playoffs. We had our struggles, a lot of downs. But when you finish 2-8 that’s not very acceptable.
The Wharton Tigers made a return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. On top of the playoff return, the Tigers also won the district championship. After finishing 8-4, the Tigers are ranked as the 17th best team in 4A Divison II, according to Dave Campbells Texas Football Magazine.
“It didn’t start off real good, we had some struggles the first couple of weeks that we had to get ironed out,” Tigers Head Coach Chad Bulter said. “Kids didn’t waver and we ended up getting a win the third week of the season that kind of gave them a little bit of confidence, then we were able to win another one. They gained their confidence back and once we got into district we were able to win the games we needed too.”