Arp Embraces Its Rising Stock Ahead Of Season
ARP -- It takes less than five minutes around Arp's Kayce Medlock and Tyler Stewart to learn what they're about.
Medlock, the current ETSN.fm + APEC Football Recruiting Combine's Offensive Most Valuable Player as a running back, is the perfect balance of confident swagger and thoughtfulness. Stewart, the quarterback, is the level-headed player every team at every level of football wants.
The two multi-year starters are doing a good job representing the program to the public.
Many entities have stopped by recently after reflecting on the fact 78 percent of letter winners are back from a more than middle-of-the-road 2015 team. The fact the district's most dynamic player lives here for a change.
Arp has won this particular round of academic turnover. With a district-best 16 starters back among the three remaining teams that qualified for the Class 3A Division II playoffs, and off a regional semifinal appearance a year ago, the Tigers make a strong case to be the favorite out of District 9-3A Division II.
"We think so," head coach Dale Irwin said after Wednesday's preseason practice on campus. "We have 21 seniors. Last year, we had six. That was a good group of seniors, but we've got a big group of seniors and all are going to contribute. When you have that, you need to have a good season.
"We're looking forward to it. We've got a great group of kids. A lot of enthusiasm, and they're great leaders. We're expecting a good thing."
Arp was in the news last week. Medlock verbally committed to SMU in favor of other scholarship offers from Army, Colorado, Louisiana-Lafayette, Navy, Tulane and UTSA.
Medlock marked SMU's third successful venture into the district in three years. Waskom gave SMU its best players two years in a row -- Kevin Johnson and Chan Amie.
Johnson won the 2014 Class 3A Division II state championship game's Offensive Most Valuable Player award before enrolling at SMU. Amie won Defensive Most Valuable Player in the same game ahead of winning Offensive Most Valuable Player in the 2015 title game.
Naturally, Waskom won both the 2014 and 2015 championship games.
Waskom. That thorn in Arp's side.
The Tigers dropped three games to Waskom in the span. Most painfully, a third-round playoff game after rallying back from a difficult 1-5 start to the season. Arp's skid ended just after losing to -- you guessed it -- Waskom.
Yet it's not just Waskom threatening in the seven-team district.
West Rusk brings back 13 players from a regional championship team while Elysian Fields and Troup can only go up after varying degrees of disappointing seasons.
Furthermore, Beckville and Harleton have joined the league from the Class 2A Division I level due to growing student numbers. Beckville went three rounds deep last year and Harleton qualified for the postseason as well.
"This district is going to be very tough," Medlock said. "Very tough. Going against the two-time defending champs is tough. But I think we can take care of them this year. We just have to be on top of our keys and for everybody be disciplined. That's what we're going to have on our football team."
Arp's potential playoff path will be more cluttered this season as well. While its district remained largely intact, it got bounced from Region II to Region III.
Newton, which lost the 2014 state championship game to Waskom, was thought to be a serious state contender once again right after the 2015 season ended. Corrigan-Camden and Crockett are other reputable teams in the region.
All three of those teams are in the adjacent District 10-3A Division II. So, more than usual, it's in Arp's best interest to win its district's first seed to avoid those three teams in the first round of the playoffs.
"Here's what we tell our kids," Irwin started. "'We play the two-time defending state champion every year. We've played the best. Let's keep feeding off of that.' Now that we're in Region III, where you've got Newton and Corrigan, Crockett, Garrison -- The schools down south. It doesn't get any easier. 'We've played at that level, let's just keep doing it.' That's what you have to sell your kids."
Irwin added between 50 and 55 players out of 62 people within the football program made offseason workouts on a day-to-day basis.
Arp's senior-laden team has been waiting for the clutter to clear while making their own improvements.
By no means is a path toward a deep playoff run clutterless. But there seems to be a bigger opening, at least here in the preseason.
"We're going day-by-day this year," Stewart said. "We're not saying, 'Win state.' We're not worried about that right now. We've got to go day-by-day everyday. First goal is the scrimmage coming up against Garrison."