The John Tyler Lions football program has been building to this moment for the past three seasons, and with the 2012 season only a few days away, the time is now.

Since 2009, the Lions are 35-8 and have advanced to at least the state-quarterfinal round in each of the previous three years, including last season's trip to the semifinals.

With 16 returning starters, led by senior quarterback Greg Ward (5-10, 160) and senior receiver Fred Ross (6-1, 185) -- both Division I commits -- the Lions are the favorites of many to win their fourth state title and first since the famed 1994 team.

Ward, a Houston pledge, had a stellar junior season with 3,782 passing yards and 34 touchdowns and 1,242 yards and 19 touchdowns rushing. Ross, committed to Oklahoma State, had 99 catches for 1,335 yards and 15 touchdowns to go along with 450 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2011.

There are few other Division I-caliber players for the Lions, including defensive end Tyus Bowser (6-3, 205) and receivers Darion Flowers (6-0, 165) and Justice Liggins (6-1, 192).

Several other weapons will be at the disposal of first-year coach Ricklan Holmes, who was promoted following the sudden resignation of Dereck Rush (now at Conroe Oak Ridge).

Fans will have an early opportunity to see how good the 2012 Lions will be when JT hosts Lufkin on Friday in the season opener. John Tyler also plays Lancaster, Tyler Lee, Mesquite Horn and Nuevo Leon, Mexico before beginning District 16-4A competition at Corsicana on Oct. 12.


5A/4A Countdown

No. 3: Lufkin

No. 4: Sulphur Springs

No. 5: Tyler Lee

No. 6: Texas High

No. 7: Jacksonville

No. 8: Whitehouse

No. 9: Hallsville

No. 10: Lindale