Daingerfield football is used to receiving respect around the state and in East Texas, but a 1-9 finish in 2014, the worst for the school since 1964, and an 0-5 start to the 2015 season had the Tigers reeling for the second straight season.

The six-time state champions did what champions do: respond. Daingerfield is now 3-0 in district and alone in first place in the 7-3A D-I standings.

“We have more leadership than we did last year,” head coach Aric Sardinea said. “The juniors from last year have stepped up as seniors. We only had seven (seniors) on last year’s team and that hurt us a lot more than we anticipated. We’ve also been able to stay relatively healthy this season. That wasn’t true in 2014.”

One of the reasons Daingerfield was banged up in district play last season was because of the non-district schedule. The Tigers face one of the toughest non-district schedules in the entire state, which is a double-edged sword for Sardinea and his program.

“I like to have a balance in non-district play. We want to win some games, but we also want to be challenged by teams that run different systems. That way, once we get to district play, we’ve seen passing teams and rushing teams and teams that are balanced on offense,” he said. “The problem for us came after the last realignment. We basically had to get what we could get for opponents. That left us in a tough spot and it did again this season.”

Daingerfield started 0-5, but those five losses came to the likes of Gladewater, Malakoff, Atlanta, Gilmer and Henderson.

“I think we had a chance to win all of those games. We were in a lot of those late and couldn’t close the deal. No loss is a good loss, but we learned a lot about our team during that time because we saw improvement each game,” Sardinea said. “We had the experience to battle those teams this year. We saw some positive things and it also showed us what we needed to improve on moving forward.”

One of the keys to the district success is the play of Baylor commit Denzel Mims. The senior wide receiver is one of the most electric players in East Texas.

“The thing about Denzel is that he’s still growing as a player and a wide receiver. He’s come a long way since his freshman year,” Sardinea said. “His work ethic is impressive. He challenges our guys to step up in the weight room and on the practice field and that’s what you want from a player that gets so much attention. He’s very intelligent and football savvy, and he’s obviously talented. He stacks right there with the best players I’ve ever coached and I’ve been around some good ones that ended up in the NFL. He’s got the tools and he’s only getting better.”

Daingerfield is locked into the playoffs, but two games remain on the district schedule and the Tigers are in the driver’s seat to capture a district crown.

“We can’t let up. We actually talked about that last week. We want to keep our foot on the gas pedal and move forward. That isn’t always easy to get across to teenagers, but that is our job,” Sardinea said. “I don’t worry about it too much because these guys remember how bad last year felt and no one wants that to happen again. We still have goals to accomplish and that doesn’t change because we’ve won three games in a row.”

Daingerfield will travel to Redwater this week before ending the season at home against New Boston.