Week 0 is Finally Here, 2017

The first week of Texas Friday Night Lights is upon us.  The UIL counts forward with week # 1, being “0” .  Second week, is week one, and so on.  Whatever, it has been about 44 weeks since the Llano Yellow Jackets took the field in a real game.  And barring any weather complications due to Hurricane Harvey, the Jackets will play the Smithville Tigers in Llano Friday night, September 1.

Smithville has had a hard time of it the past few years.  I believe that they have not had a winning record in at least 10 years, but feel free to correct me on that.  An old friend, Joey McQueen was the coach at Smithville when they last had a good season..  He parlayed that into a three year stint at Lampasas, where I know they won 9 games one season, maybe two.  Joey now coaches at Comfort. But last seasons the Tigers were 0-10.

What was worrisome to me was the Tigers played Llano pretty darn tough last season in the home opener at Smithville.  And this year, they have 19 starters back.  A returning running back that had over 1,000 yards, and  good overall size.  The Tigers will be looking for a turnaround season, with the Jackets being first on their bucket list.  Over looking Smithville would be bad medicine.

I really liked Llano’s effort last Thursday night in the scrimmage with Comanche.  Lots of gang tackling on defense.  And on offense, great mixture of running and passing.  Jackets out scored the Indians.  Comanche won their 3-AAA District last season and are picked by DCTF magazine to win it again this year.

The Jackets return about 10 starters from last season.  But I do believe that our strongest point will be seniors that are hungry to win.  I think these seniors have something to prove, not only to others, but to themselves.  I see really good players on defense and that will be where the Jackets can make the biggest improvement.  The offense sometimes takes longer to get into sync.  A new quarterback,  two or three new running backs , a new offense is all about timing and getting comfortable with the teammates.  This will come.  The Jackets new Coaching staff seems like a serious bunch to me.  Coach Green did not come to Llano to go 4-6.  But in week 0,  the Jackets win # 1.  See you Friday night at 7:30 PM.

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Let’s Take a Look at the Jacket’s Schedule

The times are changing, and Llano is no different.  But the 2017 regular season schedule is the same as the 2016 schedule.  I do think the teams we play this season are ones we should be competitive with.  But most often, that is not enough.  We expect more than just being competitive.  Llano wants to win.  And after 6 seasons of varsity football with non winning seasons, even worse, many times we were not competitive.  I can tell you that no one finds this harder to take that our Llano Yellow Jackets.  In 2017, things will change.

September 1, Smithville at Jacket Stadium

Last Seasons Score: 31-15 Llano Won            All Time Record 3-0 Llano

Smithville went through another 0-10 season in 2016. But with 19 starters returning, and running back Nomar Rivera with 1,034 yards last season, do not expect a weak Tiger team to show up in Llano.  In last seasons opening game, Smithville never let down.  I suspect they will play their best game in years in a game they think they can win.  This is a must win for the Jackets.

September 8, Sonora at Jacket Stadium

Last Season Score: 14-28 Sonora Won       All Time Record 5-5

Sonora was 12-2 last season, and enter this season ranked #6 in 3AAA Div. II according to Texas Football magazine.  Returning quarterback Kaden Cordell is the preseason All State Quarterback in Class 3AAA.  This is a statement game. This is where the Jackets need to step it up.  And play to impress, but maybe most important, play to impress themselves.  This is a winnable game.

September 15, Llano at Brady

Last Season Score 7-21 Brady Won         All Time Record 25-26-2 Brady

Want to impress the old timers?  Beat Brady in Brady.  That is where it all started in 1965 in Brady.  Llano won that game 19-7.  The previous season, in Llano, Brady beat Llano 64-6, and tried a field goal with less than a minute to play.  The 64-6 battle cry lasted over 2 decades with Llano teams.  Llano won over 75% of the games played against Brady over the next 35 years.  Llano was not competitive last season in a real  disappointing game.  Brady was 4-7 last season in 3AAA.  Must win for the Jackets. And we need to get the over-all record back to even.

September 22, Llano at Lago Vista

Last Season Score 13-41 Lago Vista Won                  All Time Record 0-1 Lago Vista

This was a stinker last season.  Coach Craten Phillips moved over from Sonora, and put former Yellow Jacket great Brad Kassell in as his defensive coordinator.  Beat Jackets by 28, and it was not even close.  Returning QB Jared Defelice passed for over 2,400 yards in an 8-3 season.  Another 3AAA school that is looking for bigger things. This is an opportunity for the Jackets to reach for the higher hanging fruit.

September 29   Llano at Burnet

Last Season Score 6-32 Burnet Won                   All Time Record 39-35-2 Llano

A legit loss last season.  Burnet was 7-4 last season in 4AAA Div. I.  I think Llano has not beaten the Bulldogs since mid ’90s. Wow…But this is the year Llano should win.  The Jackets long time rival has put enough hurt on us.  Few things could better equip the Jackets for district play than a win against the green slim.  Burnet is always good.  2017, the Jackets just might be better.

The Regular Season is 1/2 Over   My Prediction is Llano will be 4-1 at this point.

October 6  Austin Eastside at Llano

Last Season Score 62-7 Llano Won             All Time Record 1-0 Llano

Nearly a non-game.  I think this is only Eastside’s second varsity season.  Will be another rough season for the Panthers. But with 850 enrolled, do not poke the eye of the cat.  Someday they will get revenge.  Great opportunity for Jackets to play great technique, no penalties, and heal for the coming District 13-4AAA play.

DISTRICT 13-4AAAA Div. II Play Begins:

October 13 Llano at Navarro

Last Season 0-42 Navarro Won             All Time Record 0-3 Navarro

Navarro was 14-1 last season.  These guys are good.  But the Jackets can rise to a new level of play. QB Will Eveld returns.  An improving Jacket defense will get its opportunities against a high quality offense.  This could be the game Llano is looking for.  An opportunity to tell the football world “We are Back”.

October 20  Wimberley at Llano

Last Season 16-35 Texans Won            All Time Record 6-14 Wimberley

I really believe Llano will beat the Texans in this great contest.  The Texans were 10-3 last season.  Returning QB JoJo Weeks is good.  Many others are good also.  But I think the Jacket seniors would love to make another statement in District play and put a hid on the wall.  Beating the Texans would be a lifetime game to remember.

October 27  Llano at Hondo

Last Season 48-21 Llano                     All Time Record 3-3

The Jackets best played game in 2016.  But this could be a trap game.  Llano has not played well in Hondo.  Sure hope the team does not get to eat at Hermann & Sons until after the game…when we win.  Running back Jordan Gomez had over 1,200 yards last season.  9 returning starters on defense.  Cannot let this scrappy bunch of Owls slip up on you.  This is where you do not let the mental part of the game relax.  Llano will be better.  But must prove it in Owls Stadium.

November 3 Bandera at Llano

Last Season 22-13 Llano                     All Time Record 14-7 Llano

Never liked playing the Bulldogs.  For some reason they seem to beat Llano when we are not looking.  Bandera won the State Championship in 2002.  They beat Llano in overtime in last game of regular season of 2002.  They will beat you when you relax.  Don’t relax here.  Jackets need to finish strong for a strong ending to a great season.  This is how you prepare for the playoffs.

Prediction for District Play:  4-1   Season Prediction:  8-2

I feel so good about this season.  I have never in 44 years made a season forecast like the above.  I  could be easily wrong.  The Jackets have talent all over the field.  Players that I know want to prove something.  Prove they are good.  Prove they have it.  And are tired of the records of the past.  This team has an opportunity. But having an 8-2 season, or even 6-4 season, this team can play up to its ability.  I believe it will.

*** Many names and records of other teams were borrowed from the Bible of Texas High School football magazine…Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.  By the end of the football season, my copy is in rages.  A must for all to have for all serious minded fans.  Copies available at HEB and Walmart.

 

 

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45 Years of Play To Win

The blessing of being able to cover the Llano Yellow Jackets the past 44 years is an unmeasured treat.  The many coaches that were so strong and concerned for our young men is and has been sometimes just chilling.  And with just a couple of exceptions, Llano players play with more heart than most teams we face.  Since the 1964 season when Coach Weldon Seeliger came to Llano, Jacket pride became something that meant something.  Every team felt it and breathed it.  Players, many players were part of something that was bigger than themselves for the first time.  And as a player, you wanted to keep that prideful feeling.  If you really have orange and black running in your veins, you never wanted to lose that feeling of self confidence, self pride, and accomplishment that comes when everyone pulls together for the same goal.  And the same good.  Being a Llano Yellow Jackets is a lifetime endeavor.

So many players over the past four decades have returned to Llano and many have told me that pride never goes away.  For many it has carried them thru good times and tough times.  When times in our lives things look the darkest, one can pull from  those August days of 100 plus degrees knowing that living through  that, hard times can seem easy.  Nothing is over.  And there is always a fourth quarter in our lives.  Being a Llano Yellow Jacket has helped many of us know that you can live to play another day.  It gets in your veins.

Several years ago I wrote an article about the enrollments of schools and how it affected their season records.  For all the nice things about being from Llano, and being in such a great locations for many things, high school enrollments have usually found Llano with not much to brag about.  I went back 10 years, and one can easily see Llano has been either the smallest school in the district, or when Salado was in our district, the second smallest.  These are not excuses.  In fact, it has been something to think about, and be proud of.  Beating schools with larger enrollments  is a “thing” the Jackets have repeatedly done in the past.  When you know that in 2010 Lampasas, Burnet, Taylor, and Liberty Hill came into our district. Wimberley came in the next season.  Llano beat Fredericksburg and Brownwood.  And never forget that Llano has a 7-0 record against Lake Travis.  Yes, that Lake Travis. All of these schools usually had about 250-300 more kids in high school than the Jackets.

While in 2007 Llano had 523  enrolled, today we have 493 enrolled according to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine, a 5% decline. These  numbers are  provided to the UIL by each school.  Many years Liberty Hill and Burnet were able to stay in Llano’s 3AAA classification by only 1-2 kids.  But the Jackets managed.   From 2005 thru 2010 the Jackets played in 10 play0ff games with a 5-5 record. Highlighted in 2007 playing in the Alamodome on November 24, 2007, beating Devine 40-6 in the Area playoff game.  Llano went 9-4 in 2007.  Not very long ago.

Short story.  In 2007 Ty Thurman was Llano’s top running back.  A guy named Lance Dickey was the “other” back.  Hard to get better than those two…ever.  In the last game of the season, Ty went down with a bad leg injury, and out for the season.  Ty had 1,334 yards and 23 Tds’ in 10 games.  A little known senior with 76 carries in two seasons as Ty’s backup, Austin Freeman was expected to take Tys place.  Many of us thought we were domed going into the playoffs.  No one ever doubted for a second that Austin would not do his best.  Do everything he could with all 160 pounds to “replace Ty”…  In three playoff games, Austin ran 47 times for 347 yards….a 7.38 average per carry….in the playoffs.  Austin did not know he was not Ty Thurman.  Someone forgot to tell him.  But Austin knew what he expected of himself, and what his teammates expected of him.  To quote my favorite radio announcer…”man oh man”…what a YellowJacket.

Next week we will go thru the schedule…see if we can win a game or two….and talk more about “being a YellowJacket”.

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2017 Llano Yellow Jackets Football Schedule

SEPT. 1        Smithville   Play in Jacket Stadium     7:30PM

SEPT. 8       Sonora         Play in Jacket Stadium    7:30 PM

SEPT. 15     Brady           Play at Brady                      7:30 PM

SEPT. 22    Lago Vista   Play at Lago Vista              7:30 PM

SEPT. 29    Burnet         Play at Burnet                    7:30 PM

OCT.  6      Austin Eastside   Play at Jacket Stadium   7:30 PM    LLano Homecoming, Hall of Fame Inductees…Reception at O.Henry  Building at 4:30 PM

OCT. 13    Navarro          Play at Navarro                7:30PM 1st District Game

OCT. 20  Wimberley      Play at Jacket Stadium   7:30 PM

OCT. 27    Hondo           Play at Hondo                    7:30 PM

NOV. 3    Bandera          Play at Jacket Stadium    7:30 PM  Jacket Senior Night

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Head football Coach Craig Slaughter Resigns

Head football Coach and Athletic Director Craig Slaughter resigned from the Llano Independent School District Friday, June 2.  Source says that Slaughter took the defensive co0ordinator coaching position at Wall, Texas.

Slaughter, had a record of 18-36 as head football coach in Llano over the past 5 years.  Growing concerns in the community about the direction of the Llano Athletic Department has only increased this past spring.  The boys basketball program did not win a single game.  The boys baseball team  fell on very hard times over the past 5 years.  And no one in high school today has played on a winning varsity football team.

So many times over the past 5 seasons, the football team was not even competitive in games that in years before, were considered rivals and even very competitive foes.  In 2016, the Jackets lost to three AAA schools, a division lower than the 4A Jackets.  Concerns grew stronger, as Llano made the state play-offs for the second year in a row, playing what many considered a very weak Crystal City team.  Llano beat Crystal City in 2015, but showed very little spark or enthusiasm in the loss in 2016.  Four teams make the state play-offs out of Llano’s five team district. Llano finished the season 4-7.

The school has posted the position of Athletic Director and Head Football Coach as open and taking applications.

 

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4-7 Jacket Season Big Disappointment

The Llano Yellow Jackets season ended with a big disappointment November 10th in the 22-18 loss to Crystal City in the Bi- District Game.  There is little to say that will heal the hurt.  Dreams came to an end.  Yet life will go on.  The seniors will be fine.  But they will never forget their senior season, and they can be proud of many things.  Effort being one of those.  There was no let down by this strong group of seniors.  And their tremendous effort in beating Hondo was the highlight of the season.  Beating Hondo 48-21 was a great team victory. Then winning at Bandera the following week to secure a third place finish in the District race was special.  Many wonderful seniors and great memories.  I will miss you all.

Seniors of the 2016 Yellow Jackets

Travis Wright           Jason Gann         Taylor Smith        Kegan Greenhaw       Roberto Alcala

Thomas Westermann     Christian Conway      Jordan Monroy    John Keeney   John Heflin

Stephen Sanderson    Bradley Dyess    Shane Flint     Brent Greenwood      Blake Dillard

Jaden Napolez        Kyle Cooper       Hunter Roemer          Neil Blackmon   Cameron Hall

Each of these seniors had a role to play.  Sometimes, it is just as a  cheerleader.  Sometimes it is throwing a great block (Alcala, Hall, Gann,  Westermann, Monroy).  Sometimes it is the extra effort it takes to go chase down kick offs and punt returns (Sanderson, Conway, Keeney, Flint, Dyess).  Making that key tackle ( Dillard, Greenhaw, Smith, Naploez, Cooper, Roemer, Blackmon),.  That great run- Heflin, or those turnovers and interceptions- Greenwood. This large senior class had some wonderful moments.  Those special moments will always be remembered.

Looking  toward 2017, we can see hope for better results.  Returning Llano will have players that made a great impact on 2016.  I look at the offensive line as the key.  Dakoda Trull, Tyler Lindell, Hayden Cowert, Lane Ward, Dalton Bauman, Kendall Downey, Austin Humphrey, Alex Smith, Luke Williams, Mason Brooks, Ethan Tisdale or Bailey Hoy could all be in the mix.  Senior to be Ray Dixon will be a beast.  These players must get stronger.  Get quicker.  Get into better shape.  These lineman either on offense or defense can make 2017 a great season.  But they must get better.  These lineman will  have the excitement of blocking for very good backs running the football.  Returning to name only a few will be Gage Cox, Ben Walling, Josh Soliz, Cade Fly, Drew Cooper, Luis Coronado, Tyler Gann, Pressley Lynch, and Dalton Moore.  Aaron Brown could become special.  Nolan Keller, after finding his position, could be a key to a successful passing game, as his 33 yard catch in the Bi District game showed.  Gann, Quint Pincelli, Thomas Adams, along with returning leading receiver of 2016 Anthony Watson could be very good.  All must improve.  All can.

Ian Flecther has a chance to be so good.  He already is in so many respects.  Leadership, maturity and experience should make for a great 2017.  Ray Dixon will continue to dominate on both sides of the line.  You have to watch him on every play. Ray will be a senior, as will Ian and Josh.  And returning for his senior year is running back Mason Greenwood.  2,360 yards in two seasons.  Mason, with a lot of help from the offensive line, could….could approach 4,000 yards for a career.  Former Yellow Jacket great, Kevin Fain is in second place all-time, with 3,226.  The great former Yellow  Jacket James Grantham is  the number one career rusher of all-time with  5,663 yards.  Those  are great numbers to shoot for.  But only a team effort can those dreams come true.

The Jackets of 2017 must get their heads on straight.  Winning 4 or 5 games a season is not reaching high enough.  I truly thought Llano could have won 7 games this season.  I really believe Llano should have beaten Wimberley.  2017 …every game is winnable.  Every game.  You think about it over the next 9 months.  You watch film. You make winning every game next season a reality.  You believe it.  You work at it.  You watch more film.  And you accept nothing less.  Because when you do, you will accept less.

I think the school record book is updated now, but please call me out when you see mistakes.  Both Yellow Jacket Records and Win/ Loss records are update.  Had several entries from the 2016 team.  Spoke with IT guru Jim Beasley with Llano ISD and he will see about placing a link on the school web-site so that finding this information will be easier.  If you type in “Play To Win by Mikel Virdell”, it should be there.  Records can be clicked on in top headline area.   I am already looking forward to 2017.  See you at Jacket Stadium when we play Smithville in the first game of 2017.

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Empty Feeling After Bi District Loss

I guess I never had a thought that the Llano Yellow Jackets season would be over when we all left Edgewood Veteran Stadium last Thursday night.  But the score showed that Crystal City had beaten the Jackets 22-18.  I kept thinking we would get the ball back one more time.  But we never did, and thus the close to the 4-7 season that had so much hope had now ended.

The Yellow Jackets really played well the first half.  Crystal City scored first, and made the 2 point extra point , after the Jackets drove to the 5 yard line and failed to score.  8-0.  Llano took the kick-off and in 6 plays scored, with the final 21 yards coming on a pass from quarterback Ben Walling to sophomore Anthony Watson.  Score 6-8.  The Jacket defense held on three plays and got the football back.  3 plays later, Mason Greenwood scored.  This after senior John Heflin ‘s 34 yard run.  Score 12-8 Llano.

Crystal City took the kick-off, drove to the 13 yard line, where Llano’s defense held.  Then after Llano drove out to the 34 yard line.  Llano punted, and our special teams laid an egg. Punt returned for a touchdown.  Crystal City goes for two, gets it, and leads 16-12..  Llano came right back. drove 8 plays and Llano takes the 18-16 lead into halftime.  Sounds good up to this point.

But the second half was a fast blur.  Crystal City took the opening kick off and ran 13 plays and scored.  There was 4:02 left in the quarter, and Llano had not seen the football.  Llano ran 7 plays and ran out of downs.  Quarter over!!!.  In the fourth quarter Llano’s defense forced 2 punts.  Crystal City forced Llano to punt, its only punt of the game.  Llano got the ball back one more time, drove to the 19 yard line and was stopped on a fourth and one.  Game over.

This one will be hard to get over.  I’m still thinking about it.  Maybe opportunities lost.  Twice in the red zone and no points,  Only 4 penalties by the Jackets, for 20 yards, but two of those stopped drives.  No turnovers.  No take-aways.  Llano had more total yardage, 346 to 316.  Llano averaged over 5 yards per carry in the running game.  3 first downs on pass plays.  I might have accepted that before the game, thinking those numbers would win.  But they didn’t.  This game will haunt the seniors for a long time.  It will be long remembered, not in a good way.  My heart breaks for the seniors.  They deserved better than this quiet loss.  The seniors played proud, and will go on.  But it will take a long time to forget this last game.

I will write the final article of the year within a few days.  Hard to say good bye.  This one was not expected.

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