TYLER -- Most of the Crusaders football team had never been to Texas before. Some probably won't ever come back, even less to East Texas.

Eureka (Calif.) St. Bernard's Catholic's once-in-a-lifetime trip began Tuesday ahead of Thursday's bi-state game against Bullard Brook Hill without a hitch. The only thing sweeter than being here would be taking home a 1-0 record.

"It's kind of surreal being here in this moment," junior quarterback Jack Rice said back at the team's Tyler hotel following a practice at Brook Hill's Herrington Stadium. "We're two days away from actually playing in Texas. It's kind of all coming together that we're here and ready to play a game."

Crusaders' junior running back Raequan Washington was one of several standouts during the team's Tuesday practice at Brook Hill. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

There's lots of good stuff on the itinerary today.

The team will visit Brook Hill's American Freedom Museum and conduct another practice on-campus. Tyler Bishop Gorman, the local Catholic school and Brook Hill's district rival, will host the team through a Wednesday mass and joint-team lunch.

Maybe biggest of all, head coach Matt Tomlin has permitted the team to enjoy the hotel's pool through this evening.

It's a small consolation for the fact the Crusaders won't be attending their first day of school today and won't begin coursework until Monday.

"I'm always looking to do really big things for our program and giving my kids an opportunity kids don't get in the area we coach at," Tomlin said. "I saw the game being advertised and that they were looking for an opponent out-of-state. I sent an e-mail saying we'd be interested in that and communications started between me and Coach (Bobby) Brasher. Things came together really quick. It was something they wanted to do and we wanted to do."

Eureka (Calif.) St. Bernard's Catholic end Sean Gardner leads the defense at 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

It gets even better for St. Bernard's. A cool front reached the area Tuesday and is forecasted to hold together through the team's stay.

The high Thursday is projected to be 95 degrees and it should be well below that number early in the first half as the sun sets behind a hill and pine trees at the venue. Local players worked out in 104-degree weather about two weeks ago, the high thus far in August.

With a Northern California ocean breeze, Eureka has never seen a 90-degree day in its history. It feared the worst for the trip and prepared as best it could with daily three-mile runs on the beach against soft sand.

St. Bernard's seemed to rather enjoy Tuesday's practice in low-80s weather.

"We liked the stadium," senior defensive end Sean Gardner said. "It's going to be fun playing on turf. There's lots of room and lots of places for people to sit. That's different. It was perfect out there, better than the weather in California. That's a plus."

Of course, the team also expects a good challenge from Brook Hill.

The Crusaders are feeling good about themselves after a double round-robin district championship and a trip to the Division 5 North Coast sectional semifinals -- one game shy of capping the season with a win. But they know Brook Hill enjoyed similar success en route to a TAPPS Division II state quarterfinals appearance.

The teams are in place and the season is ready to begin.

"It's going to be a great challenge," Tomlin said. "They're a very well-coached team. They believe in their system and run it over and over again. We're expecting a lot of the stuff they did last year. We think Seth Brasher is a very good football player and we're also very impressed with Jacob Dumesnil.

"They've got a brand new starting quarterback that's a senior. We're going to put some pressure on him and see how he reacts to that. But I think it's a good football team. I think we have to take away (Brasher). That's no secret and we know what he can do. But we have a game plan to take him away and make someone else from Brook Hill beat us."


How St. Bernard's Got To Brook Hill
  • Drove 285 miles from Eureka, Calif., to an Oakland, Calif., on Monday
  • Stayed in an Oakland hotel overnight
  • Flew Southwest Airlines from Oakland International Airport to Dallas Love Field on Tuesday morning
  • Detoured to visit AT&T Stadium in Arlington
  • Rode a charter bus from Arlington to hotel in Tyler
  • Rode a charter bus to and from Herrington Stadium in Bullard
The Crusaders reached East Texas on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's bi-state game with Brook Hill in good spirits. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)