Bullard Knows There Is Little Leeway Between Championship And Couch In District Of Doom
BULLARD -- We're at the point in the summer where, even if you're doing something outside at 9 a.m., it's just miserable.
Thursday morning at Bullard, there was no wind and there was no cloud coverage. Low-90s temperature measurements on the roof of the high school or wherever translated to more than 100 degrees on the field at Panther Stadium.
We have also quickly run up against the first plateau of the high school football season. The fourth day of padless practice, the fourth day of remedial drills and the fourth day of simple concepts ahead of the fifth day -- where teams can go in full pads and excitement temporarily resumes.
Head coach Shannon Wilson saw no such lull at Bullard. He told the team how pleased he was with the four-day body of work in the post-practice huddle.
"We have a lot of potential," Wilson said on-the-record. "Our kids, our senior leadership, has been great. The atmosphere that we have out here has just been exciting. The kids know what to do, and we have a lot of kids back. So it's neat starting where we're starting."
Bullard has done the math. A blue chip tight end even Alabama's Nick Saban wants, 13 other returning starters and many more players with experience beyond what it counts as a starter have been determined to be good things.
Maybe more than any other East Texas team, particularly offensively and particularly for Class 4A, the Panthers cycle their players.
No player has amazing numbers at Bullard, but an amazing amount of players have good numbers.
For the defensive-minded Wilson -- he was the defensive coordinator at nationally famous Southlake Carroll before joining the Panthers in 2010 -- this could be a banner year. Eight of the 14 starters are on his absolute expertise's side of the ball.
Bullard had the local Legion of Boom last year.
Physically littler teams that relied on passing to create space for offensive athletes always fell flat against the Panthers' mostly returning secondary. Then, a complex front would collapse down on the run. Then, the secondary would bat away the last-ditch effort to get back into the game.
Wilson's offense, meanwhile, rotated and rotated again. It sandpapered away at opposing District 5-4A Division II defenses with exception to Gilmer, and even that was a close game on the road.
Gilmer cycled right back at the Panthers and eventually went on to reach the 4A Division II state semifinals. A Week 15 loss demoted Gilmer to 30-1 the past two seasons.
But Gilmer doesn't matter anymore. Defending 4A Division I state semifinalist Carthage matters.
Kilgore, Henderson and Chapel Hill all have won state championships since 2004 and now matter. Center reached the 4A Division II playoffs' third round, retained its two most valuable players, kept nine other starters and now matters.
Bullard High School has grown a little bit, along with the nearby south end of Tyler, so the UIL promoted the Panthers football team to 4A Division I in February's biennial realignment.
The Panthers got thrown into District 9-4A Division I with those heavy hitters and rounded out by Palestine.
Palestine went 1-9 last year thanks largely to the caliber of competition it faced. Namely Carthage, Chapel Hill, Kilgore and Henderson.
Good news for the grandfathered members of this fierce district, though. Brownsboro was removed from the mix after a bi-district playoff appearance.
That means at least one team that missed or was not present in the league will go dancing.
Maybe Henderson, which has two TCU commitments on its team and just lost the wrong combination of games despite a 7-3 record clinches a berth. Maybe Chapel Hill and its deep fountain of athletes. Maybe Center keeps it going a half-level up. Maybe Palestine turns it around.
Maybe Bullard contests for it off a 7-4 season that ended in the first playoff round a half-classification down.
"A lot of people are probably overlooking us," senior defensive end Derek Landrum said. "They probably don't think we're going to be a contender. They've got it coming."
Opposing teams can expect rotation. Opposing teams can expect an experienced defense. Opposing teams can even expect a highest-level recruit will be an obstacle to overcome.
But senior tight end Major Tennison -- that blue chip prospect and a universal receiver at this level -- is a trump card. At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, he is a real college-bodied player just a year too young for the game.
There's no one else like Tennison around here. He's the second-highest regarded senior tight end-bodied player in the state behind Brock Wright of Cypress Fairbanks, a Class 6A school in the Greater Houston Area.
Tennison also is a tired high-profile recruit. His recent decommitment from Texas and Wright's pledge to Notre Dame makes him the highest-recruited tight end in the United States' Southwest, which makes him a national college football interest.
That means, on top of having discussions with college coaches and the pressure of finding the right fit both schematically and socially, there are a lot of other people that want to know what he's thinking as it pertains to college football.
To be a part of a team doing well early and a team largely picked on the edge of making the playoffs or not, it's actually Tennison's only football-related sanctuary.
There are no tangible goals of yards or touchdowns for the blue chip. Only broad things.
"I think we're a very deep team," Tennison said. "We're all close in the locker room. We all get along really well. We push each other, which I think is very important. We're counted out. I think we're picked second-to-last in district.
"That's fine. No one expects us to go very far, and that's what we like. We like no one thinks we have a chance. But, personally, I think we'll go as far as we want. If we play every game like I think we can, we have a shot to win every game. We've got to play to our full potential."
Which is why Wilson's endorsement of the first four days of remedial practice in harsh conditions is so important.
Bullard, above average in all categories of any preseason benchmark test, got hurled into a district full of teams above average in all categories of any preseason benchmark test.
The starting point to get out of District 9-4A Division I is to not plateau with complacency on Day Four of practice.
"It's been very exciting," starting junior quarterback Cleet Bowman, a mid-season replacement as a sophomore, said. "Everybody is coming back knowing what to do. Everything is clicking. I think my leadership skills are getting better, coming in last season and doing pretty well. I think we're going to have a great season."