Craig Barker, Tatum Get Back to Normal — Winning Football Games
If there's an East Texas program that's not used to losing, it's Tatum.
The Eagles' last winless season was 1962, before many of the parents of this year's players were born. Tatum has had just 11 losing seasons in the 54 years since, and two since 1987.
It's a good thing new coach Craig Barker isn't used to losing either.
"There's a lot of tradition here, and that was a key factor in me taking the job," said Barker, who wouldn't be born until 12 years after Tatum's 1962 winless season. "They expect to win in Tatum."
It didn't take long for things to get back to normal in Tatum. Barker and the Eagles surprised plenty with their 24-14 season-opening win over Arp last Friday night-- the Tigers were ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press's preseason Class 3A poll and reached the regional round of the playoffs in 2015.
"No one expected us to win that game. One site even had us losing by 20 points," Barker said. "But for us to go out and compete the way we did and get the win against a very good team let our players know that what we're doing is working. The kids we’re counting on this year got the experience last year they might not have gotten otherwise. I feel good about where we're at right now."
Barker, 42, is in his fifth season as a head football coach. He came to Tatum with a 35-14 combined record at Kaufman and Garrison, and led Kaufman to the regional round last season. After Tatum's tumultuous 2015, Barker said Friday's win was an important one for his new program.
"I told the kids after the game how proud I was of them. It was great, for our seniors especially, with everything they went through last season," he said. "They've put in a tremendous amount of work since I got here in February to be successful."
Tatum dominated the line of scrimmage against Arp. Barker said his defense limited the Tigers to 2.9 yards per carry, while the Eagles averaged more than 9 yards per attempt on offense. That's especially impressive against an Arp team that returned eight starters on an offense that averaged nearly 36 points per game over its last seven games in 2015.
"Our offensive and defensive lines are the backbones of our team. They're physical, good-sized and they move well," Barker said. "We knew going in our lines would be the strengths of what we do."
Now the key is building on the win and getting Tatum back to, well, being Tatum. The road doesn't get easier, though -- in fact, it gets harder. Henderson, ranked 15th in this week's AP Poll in Class 4A, comes to town after dismantling Atlanta 44-13 last Friday night.
"There weren't any more expectations than we put on ourselves (coming into the season)," Barker said. "The kids expect to win. Friday was an affirmation that what we've been doing is working. I feel like we're going to go out and compete hard every Friday night; we just have to put them in a position to be successful."