Are you ready for some Thursday Night Football?
Well it's here. The 2016 season arrives early in the Golden Circle, where Blooming Grove and Frost have Thursday night openers.
One was planned, the other was not.
Blooming Grove is playing Marlin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Waco ISD Stadium in the first of three games in the Derrick Johnson Kickoff Classic, which runs from Thursday through Saturday.
Frost's Polar Bears didn't know they were playing on Thursday until Tuesday afternoon when they were informed the field at Cross Roads was unplayable. The two team moved the game to a 7:30 start on Thursday at Mart.
Frost went 3-7 last year, but won three of the last four games and is coming off an impressive 22-7 victory in a scrimmage over a Class 3A Dublin team that went three rounds deep in the playoffs after a controversial bi-district victory over Blooming Grove.
Frost's scrimmage victory won't count in any standings but it did give the Polar Bears an added sense of confidence to enter the season.
Frost hasn't won on opening night since 2012 when the Bears made a deep run in the playoffs before losing in the final seconds to state power Tenaha.
A victory on opening night might do wonders for Frost, where they have playoff expectations.
“It would be a tremendous boost to these kids to go 1-0,'' Frost Coach Coy Barker said. “They haven't tasted that. I told them we have the opportunity to be 1-0 and that we need to seize the moment.''
Cross Roads went 3-7 last year but 0-5 in district play. The Bobcats have a new coach and a new offense, which will spread the ball and take advantage of QB Taylor McKenzie's ability to throw and run.
“They're scrappy,'' Barker said. “And they working through a new offense. Lat year they were a Wing-T team. They look like a team that will get after you.''
Cross Roads will need to be aggressive to stop a Frost offense that looks much improved with a bigger and stronger offensive line and an offense that features ne of the top players in the Golden Circle. Kobe Hailey is electric and now that he's playing quarterback he can beat teams in many ways.
Barker is just as excited abut his offensive line that is led by Austin Stamper, a 6-4 300-pound left tackle, Caleb Curl, a 6-2, 280-pound right tackle, and Joseph Frazier, a four-year starter at center..
“I think we are stronger this year,'' Barker said. “We're stronger and more physical. I think we head into the season a lot better than we were last year. We would really like to start off at 1-0.''
Blooming Grove has playoff expectations despite losing 16 starters, including Golden Circle Del Trash Player of the Year Juanya Pyburn and all-state quarterback Brody Owens.
Xavier Cole, who was the district's Defensive Lineman of the Year as a junior, moves into Pyburn's big shoes at tailback and Alex Tovar, who started five games last year when Owens was injured, is back at QB to lead an offense that will need to put up some points against a fast and talented Marlin team.
“Cole doesn't have to be Juanya,'' Blooming Grove Coach Lawrence Williams said. “We have other people to carry the ball. Ceasar Camarillo is going to get some carries and Alex Tovar can run the ball. Cole is going to lay defense and when he gets a rest it will be on offense. It will be run by committee.''
Williams hopes his kids tackle by committee against Marlin, which features Teaguan Taylor, a lightning-quick sophomore who led the Bulldogs, who went two rounds deep in the playoffs last year, as a freshman.
“They're really good,'' Williams said. “They're big up front and real athletic. And they've got a sophomore who does everything. He makes them happen. He's fast and he's big. We will now where he is on the field. It's just a matter if we can stop him.''
The Lions won their first district title since 1977 last year and have made the playoffs for four years in a row. They plan to get back to the postseason.
“I think we have good team unity,'' Williams said. “We lost a lot of seniors. We lost a lot of veteran leadership, but the juniors who are now seniors have stepped up into that role.''
Williams knows to win the opener his kids have to step up and stop Taylor.
“I think our big thing will be turnovers,'' he said. “If we don't turn the ball over we will give ourselves a chance.''
7:30 p.m. Thursday
At Mart High School
Records: Last year Class 2A-DII Frost finished 3-7. Last year Class 2A-D I Cross Roads finished 3-7.
Players To Watch: Frost: LB/FB Brandon Folmar, C/LB Joseph Frazier, QB/DB Kobe Hailey, QB/WR/DB Ben Thornton. Cross Roads: DL Clayton Flowers, RB Tyler Johnson, QB Taylor McKenzie, OL Trey Turner.
Update: This 2016 opener was originally scheduled for Friday at Cross Roads … the game has been moved to Mart’s artificial surface stadium because Rock Tower Stadium’s grass turf has been damaged from flooding rains … Frost returns 7 starters on both sides of the ball … Folmar, Frazier, and Thornton will spearhead the defense as they combined for 180 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, including 5 sacks, and 4 fumble recoveries last year … Hailey is a quadruple offensive threat – rushing, passing, receiving, and kickoff returns (1,978 total yards and 22 TDs) … Cross Roads has not reached the playoffs since 2003 … last year the Bobcats won 3 of their first 5 games, but lost their last 5 games in a row.
- Dan Lunsford