[By Stephen Amason, Special to ETSN.fm]

A change in classification can sometimes be a big challenge to overcome, but for the Tatum Eagles, dropping from 4A to 3A has worked out in their favor.

The Eagles (5-2, 4-0 in District 8-3A Division I) currently sit atop of their district’s standings. They’ve handled the difficult task of playing new teams in new environments well.

Along with getting a new classification, Tatum got a new head football coach in Darren Hylander. Last season, Hylander was the Eagles defensive coordinator.

“The seniors really stepped up, especially with the transition when I took over,” Hylander said. “You know I have a whole new coaching staff, there’s really only one guy from last year left, he’s our defensive coordinator.”

The Eagles had to learn not just new coaches but a new system on offense and defense.

“I was little worried about that,” Hylander said. “But the kids have taken to it well, the coaches have really been unified, this is a great cohesive group, so that’s been the key right there.”

On paper, it looks as if Tatum has been in the district for the last decade. It hasn’t been as easy as it seems though for Hylander and the Eagles.

“When you go into a new district you gotta get used to a new style of ball, get used to different coaches, and teams,” Hylander said. “The administration in this school district has been great in letting me hire some guys in that I knew and that would be good for the kids and those guys have really taken over.”

Last week, Tatum picked up a huge road win over West Rusk, 35-17.

“That was a signature win,” Hylander said. “In this district, everybody is tough. Going to a game when you’re not picked to win, and beating them in that kind of fashion to me really is a signature win and a huge confidence builder. We talked about before the game getting up on them early and we got on them early, stayed ahead, and that’s all we really needed.”

Tatum’s offense is led by senior quarterback OB Jones, who has 1,312 passing yards with nine touchdowns. Jones also leads the team in rushing with 667 yards and nine touchdowns.

“He’s leader out there, he’s a coach on the field, and there’s not a whole lot you can do to coach him up because he’s already at that level,” Hylander said of Jones. “To me he’s one of the best players in the state. He’s got some good composure and you need that at that spot, he is a field general and having him on our side is a blessing. I count my lucky stars to have that kid.”

Tatum plays host to Mineola this Friday in district action. The Eagles look to continue their winning streak, and know what they must do come away with a win.

“We gotta come out with the same mindset we did against West Rusk, we gotta come out early, make sure we’re focused on them and I think the kids have done a good job as well as the coaches at preparing for Mineola,” Hylander said. “I know they’re gonna try to do some things to catch us off guard, but we just gotta be prepared for them and I think we got a pretty good game plan for them.”