Matt Turner Era Officially Begins As Defending State Champion Gilmer Opens Practice
GILMER -- Since winning the Class 4A Division II state championship almost nine months ago, a lot has changed in Gilmer. Not the least of which was an unforeseen coaching shakeup in February.
Jeff Traylor, a Gilmer alum who led his alma mater to three state titles in his 15 seasons as Buckeyes coach, became the new tight ends coach at the University of Texas.
It took less than a month before his replacement was found, and the school board didn't have to look very far, tabbing longtime Traylor assistant Matt Turner as the Buckeyes' next-in-line.
Monday night's first official workout at Buckeye Stadium was the first for Turner as Gilmer's head coach.
"Tonight, we did the things we do: we just go to work, and try to get better," Turner said following Monday's practice under the lights. "I just got to see it from a much bigger picture than I normally do."
Turner spent the previous 12 seasons on Traylor's staff, first serving as receivers coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator, where's been for a decade.
So, it's not as if the tradition Gilmer football has fortified in the 21st Century was a foreign concept to Turner.
"For 13 of my years here Jeff Traylor's been the guy at the helm, and I've been helping him do it," he said. "The nice thing is that the kids are the same, and the coaches that coach them are the same in the way that they go about doing what they do."
Traylor was hired by the Longhorns' Charlie Strong on Feb. 13, less than two months after the Buckeyes' celebrated their 35-25 victory over West Orange-Stark in the title game at Arlington's AT&T Stadium.
And while Traylor may have moved on to the brighter lights of major college football, he still maintains a close relationship with his former Buckeyes coaches, including Turner.
"With this job there's just so much more involved, so Jeff had spent (15 years) at it and he had gotten pretty good at it," Turner said. "I always tapped into that expertise whenever I could. I've leaned on him pretty hard."
Not only did Gilmer lose its head coach this offseason, but the Buckeyes also parted with a huge senior class that won 54 games in four years.
Gilmer became the state's second-highest ,single-season scoring team in state history a season ago, racking up 951 points during the Buckeyes' perfect 16-0 campaign.
However, the Buckeyes were hit hard by graduation, losing 80 percent of their team rushing yardage and 57 of their 69 rushing touchdowns. Gilmer's top five receivers were also seniors last season.
That kind of turnover hasn't bothered Gilmer much over the years, evidenced by the Buckeyes' 153-16 record since 2003.
"We're not trying to re-invent the wheel," Turner said. "We're trying to do what we've done over the last (several) years. The names change, but what we do doesn't because we believe in what we do. That's kinda the advantage of having been a part of this; it isn't like we had to go out and find another way to do it."
Senior Demarco Boyd, who has committed to Texas, is one of the few holdovers from last year's team, and he's seen more than probably any other Gilmer player that took the field Monday night.
"We're going to keep on doing what Gilmer needs, keep on impressing, and keep on improving," said Boyd, who was named Defensive MVP of last year's state title game. "I mean, we're not going to win state every single year, but that's our goal."
But on day one of 2015, Turner was primarily focused on just one thing.
"You always look at your seniors, you kinda want to see how the seniors are going to lead, how they're going to take the team and run with it," he said. "We really emphasize that, it's important. We build our year every year around our seniors because those are the guys who've invested six years of their life in our program. You look to see where they're at, and our guys were really good tonight. They were on, and they understand what's at stake. They have a tradition that they feel like they have to live up to."
Gilmer opens the season at home Aug. 27 against Liberty-Eylau, which returns the majority of its starters from last year's team that reached the state quarterfinals in Class 4A Division I.