Luke Blackwell is more than familiar with Mineola.

He graduated from Mineola in 1995 and spent the last seven years as the Yellowjackets' defensive coordinator before taking over the head job this season.

He knows what it takes to win. He has a state championship ring from Mineola's dominant 2016 season and reached the semifinals and final the two years before that.

"It's personal for me," Blackwell said on Wednesday. "It's more than a job, it's a way of life."

The first two games under Blackwell were much of the same as 2016 for Mineola. The Yellowjackets lost to Van and Kaufman to open the season, but rebounded against Wills Point. Mineola lost its final non-district game against Brownsboro, which sent the Jackets into their bye week at 1-3.

But Mineola turned the corner in its first two district games, routing Quitman (56-6) and Farmersville (35-14) to take an early advantage in District 7-3A Division I. Friday's game against unbeaten Mount Vernon could very well determine the district champion.

"(Those two wins) were big. We knew our pre-district was going to be tough and we like it that way. It kind of helps us get prepared for things we're going to see in district, which is when the real season starts," Blackwell said. "These wins gives us a little confidence and it gives the kids confidence that the things we're doing are for a reason and they're paying off."

Besides inheriting a new head coach, Mineola's program is turning to new playmakers after household names such as Jeremiah Crawford, Chantz Perkins, Devon Goguen and Austin and Riley Anderson graduated.

Shaw Franklin took over at quarterback and has 735 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions through eight games. Sophomore defensive back Wylie Franks is one of East Texas' leaders in interceptions with three, and senior Preston Lankford is averaging more than 12 tackles per game.

"We let them know this is a different team, because every year is a different team. We want to build on the success we've had, but understand we're a different team and do things our way and go through that process," Blackwell said. "We've had some kids return this year as seniors who have been a part of this success and played in the big games. And we have a mixture of young guys who are getting their feet wet for the first time. It's a combination of those things for sure."

Mineola faces a Mount Vernon team also in the midst of change, with Josh Finney in his first full season as head coach after being named interim during the 2016 season. Finney's Tigers are 6-0 and 3-0 in district, with of course, the same end goal in mind as Mineola.

"I expect it to be a good game. We thought going into this season that Farmersville and Mount Vernon would be two of the better teams in our district, and you can see that in their record. It's going to be a tough game," Blackwell said.

While Friday's game could certainly decide the district championship once the regular season comes to an end, Blackwell said that's the mindset he preaches to his team on a weekly basis.

"Yes it's real important that we take it one game at a time, but we also say it's about the district championship every week. That's our mindset," Blackwell said. "We're just trying to win every game like it's for the district championship."

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