By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Dress rehearsals are over for the Waxahachie Indian football team and the countdown to Friday’s season opener has begun.
The second and final tune-up came this past Thursday on the road against Red Oak at Billy Goodloe Stadium. The two sides held a controlled scrimmage followed by one full-half of play.
To say the evening turned chippy would be a bit of an understatement. After several minor skirmishes, a sideline-clearing incident brought an end to the outing. Red Oak “won” the scrimmage, 14-6.
The score was obviously of little concern to first-year Waxahachie head coach Shane Tolleson. Instead, the former Denton Ryan defensive coordinator entered the Tribe’s second of two scrimmages with the desire to see his team take “a giant step as we head into the season.”
“Number one, I wanted us to stay injury-free and I think we did that,” Tolleson continued. “Those were two good football teams on the field tonight. I think coach [Tony] Holmes has done a great job and his team was ready.”
When asked what the Tribe would need to focus on over the next week, Tolleson pointed specifically to eliminating SIWs — self-inflicted wounds.
“We’ll have some big, explosive plays. But if we are going to get this thing going the right way, we have to eliminate those SIWs,” he explained.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Waxahachie returns 25 lettermen from its 2020 6A bi-district finalist team. Ten of those returnees started on either side of the football (5 on offense, 5 on defense).
On the offensive side, Tolleson made it clear that Roderick Hartsfield Jr. is the leader of the Tribe’s offense. The junior signal-caller showed flashes of big-play ability in 2020 — largely with his feet — before suffering an injury in week four that led to Brandon Hawkins Jr. moving under center.
Through two scrimmages, Hartsfield has flashed that same breakaway speed, shifty moves in the open field and big arm. He has, however, left a little to be desired in the accuracy department. If he is to hone in and begin hitting receivers in stride — there is plenty of talent outside to turn a 5-yard slant into a 40-yard touchdown.
“[Hartsfield] is the leader of our offense,” Tolleson said. “We also have three really good running backs — some still waiting in the wing — and a good corp of receivers. The ability to have an explosive offense is there, and it won’t be just one guy getting the ball all of the time.”
Junior Eli Wheaon (6-foot-3, 195lbs) should lead that talented receiver group, while Javon Jackson and Jashaun Wofford will help carry the load in the backfield.
Hartfield said he expects the team to continue to “fight for each other and win a lot of games.”
“Our defense is rowdy,” he said. “Our offense is going to score a lot of points, but that defense is rowdy. We have a home opener next week, so we are just going to continue taking it day by day like we have all offseason. We have to go out there, execute and win.”
LaMarkus “Speed Bump” Reed will lead the Waxahachie defense into the 2021 season. Reed is a 5-foot-8, 188-pound junior linebacker.
“He will be the quarterback of our defense,” added Tolleson, who also noted the Indians would lean on the strength of their defensive line and stellar secondary by senior safety Jaylon Burke, junior Calvin Simpson and sophomore Lee’Tavius Donalson.
As he began to look toward the season opener, Tolleson kept the goals fairly simple — take care of the football, execute better and clean up a few problem areas.
“We have too many weapons to be sloppy,” he added. “We have to do the right things in the right moments of the game.”
DISTRICT OF DOOM
The experts at Dave Campbell’s Texas Football have the Indians finishing sixth in the loaded District 11-6A — just one year removed from the program’s first-ever 6A playoff berth. Waxahachie finished with a 5-5 overall record and 4-2 mark in 11-6A under Todd Alexander, who stepped down after three seasons leading the Tribe.
According to DCTF, Duncanville will repeat as the district champion. The Panthers will be followed by DeSoto and Cedar Hill. The top three comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched 6A football over the past decade.
They then have Hewitt “don’t call us Waco” Midway claiming the fourth-and-final playoff spot ahead of Mansfield and Waxahachie. Mansfield Lake Ridge and Waco bring up the rear in the DCTF prediction.
Waxahachie opens the regular season at home Friday against Rowlett.
The Eagles finished 4-2 overall, 3-2 in District 9-6A in 2020 and missed the postseason after canceling a few games due to COVID-19 protocols.
DCTF predicts the Eagles to miss the 2021 postseason and finish sixth in 9-6A.
Rowlett hired former Allen offensive coordinator Derek Alford to lead the program during the offseason. It’ll be the defense, led by 6-foot-5, 245-pound defensive end Michael Okeyode-Ibukan, that will prove to be the Eagles’ strength. Jacory Brown (6-1, 280) and Uba Aniyam (6-1, 220) also anchor a defensive line that is certainly going to put the Waxahachie offensive line to the test.
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium. Pregame coverage on KBEC 1390AM/99.1FM begins at 7 p.m.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith