LINDALE -- Mike Meador has presumably done all the babysitting activities imaginable in his 17 years of fatherhood.

Lindale's 11th-year head coach and a 21-year veteran of the program has probably had to step in and tell his then-younger son and friends to stop fiddling with the expensive thing in the house. He's probably witnessed embarrassing stories the kids can only pray don't come out in wedding toasts.

Even the most frustrating experiences have all been pretty funny to Meador, at least retrospectively.

He knew virtually all of the guys would someday work for him. And someday has arrived with every single senior football player now on the varsity roster.

"One thing is all of these kids have grown up with my son," Meador said after Thursday's fall camp practice at Lindale High School. "Not only have I gotten to coach them while they've been in high school, but watching them grow up in Little League and junior high and all of that. It's a special bunch. It's a good senior group.

"Not quite as many (as last year), but I still have 22 seniors on the team, which is a great number. They just have a bond about them, and there are some kids on this team that are special because they've grown up with Montana (Meador) their whole life. That makes it special."

Lindale defensive tackle Terrell Cooper works drills ahead of several junior varsity players at Thursday's practice.

A big senior class was something Mike Meador was very excited about last year on the heels of missing the playoffs in 2014.

There were more than 30 seniors on the team a season ago, the largest senior class in Mike Meador's considerable time at the school. Those seniors drove the program -- from a small-sized Class 5A school -- to its best season ever as part of the classification.

Mike Meador's 2015 team lost three consecutive district games in the final minute. Otherwise, it would have finished second in the district rather than in a three-team tie for fourth place.

But that senior-laden starting group won the right games by the right amount of points to take the district's final playoff spot.

Once there, they nearly took down the champion from the adjacent district with a winnable second round playoff match up in front of them.

What now?

It's time for Mike Meador to lean on the guys that used to break stuff around his house. Like primary culprit Montana Meador.

Montana Meador is one of eight returning starters and perhaps the most valuable as one of just three returners to the offensive side. He has already played in 16 games as the starting quarterback, and his role will be expanding in the absence of a graduated NCAA Division I receiver, a Division II receiver and a Division II running back.

"We have tight end Cameron Sir Louis, who is three-year starter for us," Montana Meador said. "He's going to be big for us this year. We have Joe Noble, an incoming junior, who is 6-foot-3 and a wide receiver. Just some guys that are stepping up from junior varsity or whatever the case was."

Lindale quarterback Montana Meador winds up for a throw in the Eagles' non-district victory against Van on Sept. 11, 2015. (Michael Alfaro,

Lindale's running back situation is still unresolved.

Montana Meador is expected to have more of a role in that aspect of the game, which would redefine him after one and a half seasons as a game manager and coach on the field.

"I'm just a lot more comfortable than my sophomore year, obviously," Montana Meador said. "I've grown up with these kids. It's nice to see us all together again. I feel more comfortable in the pocket making reads and stuff like that. I think it's going to be a good year."

Lindale boasted the region's best big-school defense a year ago. The unit gave up an average of just 20.8 points per game.

Lindale linebacker Kale RIdge works drills during Thursday's practice.

Senior defensive tackle Terrell Cooper and senior linebacker Kale Ridge are two of five defenders returning. Since the end of last season, both have become college prospects.

Cooper is a currently a mid-major Division I FBS recruit. Ridge has one offer from Prairie View A&M and might be using this season for the opportunity to play at an academically elite school to match his academic merits.

Ridge recently unofficially visited Cornell and Yale.

"That's every parent's dream for sure, and it's definitely mine," Ridge said. "The goal is to use football to get free college. That's what I'm trying to do. If I can get into an Ivy League school playing football, I'd be dumb not to take that opportunity."

Lindale will be competing in one of only two six-team 5A districts this season. Its usual rivals -- Jacksonville, Nacogdoches and Whitehouse -- will be in the league as will foes that have become familiar the past two seasons in Corsicana and Ennis.

The top four teams from the group will make the playoffs.

Notably off the district schedule are John Tyler and Lufkin. Both of those schools, with much bigger student populations than Lindale, got bumped to 6A and will compete against the largest schools in the state.

Lindale will begin 2016 with a lot of tradeoffs.

Less seniors and more understanding of the seniors they do have.

Less teams to compete with and more meaning attached to each district game.

The same optimism persists.

"We're familiar with all of our district," Mike Meador said. "We're not trying to learn what they're about. We know what they're about and how good they are. Our district is still a great district. But, now, there are only six of us. It makes it a little bit better of an opportunity to make the playoffs."

Lindale coach Mike Meador addresses the team before releasing them for the afternoon.