TYLER -- Did you know that when Tyler Lee fired head coach Darrell Piske last year that John Tyler coach Ricklan Holmes and his staff came to the aid of Lee players and families trying to figure out the recruiting process?

Think about it. One of Holmes' goals every year is to win the City of Tyler and yet he somewhat helped his chief rival boast it sent three players to junior college, one to the Division III level and one to Stephen F. Austin in a situation where Tyler residents have some flexibility in where to attend high school.

Of course, 13 John Tyler players reached the college level after last season. Fourteen went the year before.

Holmes gives a lot. Particularly to players that teeter on the edge of scholarship and no scholarship.

So, he expects a lot in return.

He was not happy Monday at 4:57 a.m., three minutes before the start of the 2016 season. A big season for a big football program always in peril of becoming just another dinosaur.

John Tyler obviously was just going to have to start in-season practices with an unresolvable issue.

Not everyone had gotten their annual physical from a doctor and therefore are ineligible to practice until they get the all-clear. Others missed the 5 a.m. cutoff to join the team for the day.

Holmes took it as a personal and team failure as much as an individual failure to comply.

Those guys had to sit in the bleachers at John Tyler's practice stadium while the remaining members of Holmes' varsity and junior varsity teams struggled to impress him. But at least they got the opportunity by showing up on time at an intentionally inconvenient hour for work with doctors' permission. 

"It's very important," Holmes said midway through the session. "It shows the kids that are dedicated. The guys that need to be here, the guys that have been out here all summer, they're out here right now. The guys that haven't been here all summer, they're probably sitting up there in the stands."

John Tyler quarterback Bryson Smith, a Houston commitment, is back for a second year under center.

Holmes' career at the school is off to a great start. In his four seasons, two of his teams reached the Class 5A Division I state semifinals and the other two at least made the playoffs toward a four-year record of 40-13.

John Tyler, an old school in the grand scheme of things, is still withstanding the test of time and population shifts. Like Longview to the east and Lufkin to the south, it is still in that first breath of Texas' winningest football programs while other once-famous programs have effectively expired to new schools in exploding Texas metropolises.

It is still a must-visit place for college coaches on recruiting swings around the state. It is still the biggest symbol of pride for residents of North Tyler -- many whom once contributed to its current status.

But Holmes has never coached a Class 6A team before.

Take last season's 6A Division II championship for how difficult it will be to reach the pinnacle. John Tyler will certainly be routed to the Division II bracket if it qualifies for the playoffs.

In the Division II title game last year, a Lake Travis offense that generated 763 points through its first 15 games fell nearly totally flat against Katy and the nation's No. 1 defense.

Still, the pinnacle is the main goal. Is John Tyler ready to take that kind of leap?

It does have some good starting blocks.

Quarterback Bryson Smith is a Houston commitment and could ultimately succeed Greg Ward Jr. there.

Ward, who is a respectable long shot to become John Tyler's second Heisman Trophy winner after Earl Campbell, was part of Holmes' first team.

John Tyler receiver Damion Miller, a Texas commitment, is about to begin his third season as a starting receiver.

Senior receiver Damion Miller is a Texas commitment. Senior cornerback Javontavius Mosley is a UTSA pledge. Junior defenders Tre Allison and Dekalen Goodson hold Mississippi State offers.

"You have (junior defensive end) Tobias Marshall," Holmes said. "You have (sophomore nose guard) Kaylen Douglas. The 2018 class is as loaded as the '17 class right now as far as star power, as everyone calls it. We have a lot more depth than we did last year. A lot of these guys that are now juniors were sophomores last year, first years on varsity.

"They've got their second year with their toe in the water. They're ready to swim."

To win a state championship here -- like Campbell did in 1973 and like the 1994 team that survived Plano East's historically wild comeback -- everything has to come together just right.

Smith, a quiet and skinny junior set to inherit the starting quarterback role a year ago, has become a vocal leader on top of becoming the team's crutch. He has athleticism to match his arm when the game plan falls apart.

That's a small start.

"We have a lot of tradition here at John Tyler," Smith said. "We have had a lot of great athletes that came here and did great things. You see that now when they go off to college and the NFL. Here, we just try to create a never quit, never die mentality and just go hard."

John Tyler did not accomplish the ultimate goal in 5A despite two close calls.

Could it be that, here in 6A, Holmes enjoys his most complete team? Despite preseason picks to be just a middle-of-the-road squad in the highest classification?

"This is exciting," Holmes said. "To get your kids out here and to know we're actually getting ready for game mode. It's not just going through the motions. It's not just practicing on what we need to practice on to get better. It's practicing stuff that will make us better to compete in football games."

John Tyler's season-opening football practice ran from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. Monday