There's one thing you could never criticize Waskom of doing the past several years, and that's playing a weak non-district schedule.

Three of the Wildcats' non-district losses in 2017 -- Jefferson, Harmony and Tyler Bishop Gorman -- are 6-1 or better. Jefferson and Harmony are still undefeated and sit just outside the Associated Press Top 10 poll.

That's solid preparation for a tough District 9-3A Division II, in which five of seven teams have winning records. And Waskom has started strong, winning its first three district matchups against Arp (14-13), Elysian Fields (30-27) and Beckville (55-13).

"You can tell them how good those teams (Jefferson, Harmony, Gorman) are but now that they've seen how well they're doing they really understand," Waskom coach Whitney Keeling said on Wednesday. "Any time you're as young as we are, the speed of the game going from Thursday nights to Friday nights is drastically different. You just try to improve every week, and that's the ultimate goal as the season progresses. It took a while to understand what that difference was, but we've gotten healthy and playing some good football right now."

Waskom's first two district wins weren't without drama. The Wildcats beat Arp after the Tigers failed to convert a two-point conversion at the end of the game, and followed with a late field goal to beat Elysian Fields.

Those two wins were crucial to the growth of this year's team, Keeling said.

"We told our guys we could have been 0-2 very easily, but in that you want your guys to understand that football is a game of plays," Keeling said. "It's not per game, it's per play. You try to win every play. If you do that and you're successful on more plays than your opponent, you have an opportunity to win."

It's no secret what Waskom likes to do on offense -- run the football. It's been the same formula under Keeling since 2010 and the Wildcats have two state titles under their belts since.

Junior running back T.K. Hamilton, who started at cornerback as a freshman on the 2015 title team, is third in East Texas in rushing with 1,034 yards and 15 touchdowns on 93 attempts, while four other Waskom players have at least 240 yards. The Wildcats average nearly 370 yards per game on the ground.

Getting healthy has been the key for this year's team, Keeling said.

"When you get guys back who have been out for a while it drastically helps you because of the fact that, as coaches, that's your plan at the beginning of the year to have those guys at certain positions," Keeling said. "When it's not the way you practiced it, you're not coaching. You're trying to survive. Our backup quarterback is our starting safety and our backup center is our left guard. When he moves to center, you have to find a left guard, and that's your starting defensive end. That's when you're trying to survive."

If you buy into numbers on paper, Waskom heads into its toughest test of 2017 against West Rusk, which is unbeaten at 6-0 on the season, is ranked eighth in the latest AP poll and has the best scoring defense in East Texas, allowing just over five points per game.

Waskom went into West Rusk in 2015 with both teams unbeaten in district, and the Wildcats came out with a 40-0 victory before winning a state championship about two months later.

"It's the same scenario as a couple of years ago, and we're excited about this game. It's a big game, going to be a big atmosphere," Keeling said. "We've got to execute and stay on our blocks longer than we have all year against that defense. It's all about who makes the most plays on Friday."

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