Gilmer Would Rather Show Than Tell What 2016 Team Is About
GILMER -- Classic high school football movies about teams driven by championships depict stands full as the squad embarks on its first few days of summer practice.
Gilmer's football team enjoyed the based-in-reality deal Tuesday during its second preseason practice. About 30 people were in the stands and several other residents diverted evening strolls to Jeff Traylor Stadium's track to catch first glimpses of the 2016 Buckeyes.
This place in Upshur County is a real football town in the real world. It has been well fed the past two years by a 2014 Class 4A Division II state championship and then a followup campaign that ended in the state semifinals for a combined record of 30-1.
More than that, Gilmer possesses other championship trophies from 2004 and 2009 plus runner-up plaques from 2007, 2008 and 2012. It has been a really good start to the century.
There's an appetite for more. Twelve returning starters, highlighted by senior Louisiana Tech safety commitment Kollin Hurt and senior Oklahoma State receiver pledge LaMarcus Morton, have started the salivation process once again.
"It's a great feeling to be back on the field," Morton said. "We've got to put on for our program. We've got a good program. We've got good coaches. We've got good senior leadership that can get us back into the position we were in last year and hopefully go farther. It's great to be back out here again."
Tuesday's evening practice atmosphere was relaxed.
It was a passing oriented session and, incidentally, it featured Hurt predominantly as a receiver and Morton as a defensive back. Both are two-way players, but neither was in the position they're known for inter-regionally.
Gilmer seeks resolution in its quarterback battle.
The winner will ultimately succeed two straight signal callers that only started as seniors -- one that helped guide the program to a championship and one to the semifinals. A testament to just how well things have clicked recently.
Inside the post-practice huddle under the lights, however, there was no talk about a championship game or a semifinal game.
Head coach Matt Turner's message was about the next day, which is part of the Buckeyes program's process of forging some of the best regional teams year-to-year. But that process is closely guarded.
"It's really just sticking to a process," Turner said in his CEO-styled office with the lit up stadium beckoning through the window. "It's a system of how you do things. And, really, not talking a lot about those things. But it's 'selflessness,' 'attack,' 'do it right,' 'do it again.' It's a belief system. It's a culture that gives you the best chance for success."
Here's what we do know.
The 12 returning starters are divided right down the middle, six on offense and six on defense.
Gilmer lost universal athlete DeMarco Boyd to graduation and a collegiate career at Texas.
The Buckeyes were realigned into a six-team district featuring four other teams that made the playoffs last year -- Atlanta, chief rival Gladewater, Pittsburg and Pleasant Grove. Pittsburg went two rounds deep in the 4A Division I playoffs while Gilmer disposed of Atlanta and Pleasant Grove itself in fairly close games.
Spring Hill, the sixth team, should have more of a bite in head coach Kelly Mercer's second year.
Only four teams will qualify for the 2016 postseason out of the league.
"The seniors have to lead and the underclassmen have to follow," Hurt said. "We've got a lot of hard work to do."
Internally, there's a lot more going on. There are high standards to reach.
It begins with getting out of the district.
Non-district games against Carthage, Center, Liberty-Eylau and Nacogdoches should help.
Carthage reached the state semifinals last season in 4A Division I. Liberty-Eylau made it to a regional championship game in 4A Division I. Center lost to Gilmer in the third round of the 4A Division II state playoffs. Nacogdoches is a Class 5A school with considerable returning experience.
For now though, Gilmer is just quietly laying a foundation.
"We try to be the best team we can be," Turner said. "My goal every year is for this to be the greatest team, cohesive unit, that we have ever put together. That's really the goal. If you do that, the rest of the things just kind of take care of themselves.
"I don't like talking a lot about it because we all understand we're going to try to go out every time and do the very best we can. We're going to try to win. Rather than talking about it, to me, that never gets it done. It's the things that it takes to do it. The effort and the connection between your teammates. Those are the things that give you the best chance."