Wildcats get a little respect from Texas Football but not much

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, News-Telegram Sports Editor

June 22, 2008 - The Sulphur Springs Wildcats got a small dose of respect from Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine, which hit the racks earlier this week, but last year's district championship apparently didn't carry much weight.

Neither did having an returning First Team All-State quarterback and 13 returning starters.

The Wildcats were picked by Texas Football to finish fourth in District 13-4A - which would still put them in the playoffs since four teams qualify for the postseason in Class 4A this year. But, Sulphur Springs was not ranked in the magazine's Top 25, despite getting a vote at the end of last year in the AP Top 10, and were picked to finish in the middle of the newly-restructured 13-4A pack.

A few of the Wildcats' opponents are highly respected. Wichita Falls Rider, a preseason match-up for SSHS, is ranked No. 2 in the state, while district foes Longview (No. 6) and Texas High (No. 9) are both in the Top 10.

Texas Football predicts Longview will win the district, followed by Texas High, Marshall and Sulphur Springs. After that comes Mount Pleasant, Hallsville and Longview Pine Tree.

SSHS head coach Greg Owens doesn't read the magazine, but he knows many of the players, parents and fans do.

"You can use it as motivation and those type things," he said. "I think sometimes those teams that get ranked up there high, it puts a mark on their back and can make it tough on those guys.

"I don't pay much attention to it. It's just bulletin board material. It's fun for the readers and the media to get excited about, but it doesn't mean anything."

Last season, the Wildcats were also picked to finish fourth, but went 5-0 in district and claimed their first out-right district title since 1994.

Granted, the district got substantially tougher for the next two years when Paris and North Lamar moved down to Class 3A, and Lindale was moved out of the district. In their place, the UIL inserted Longview, which went 12-2 last year in Class 5A; Marshall, which went two rounds deep in the playoffs; Hallsville, which returns 15 starters off a 3-7 team; and Pine Tree, which has 23 returning lettermen from last year's 5-5 record.

This season, Sulphur Springs has 13 returning starters among its 23 returning lettermen from last season's 9-2 team. Starters coming back include the entire offensive line of Beau Carpenter, Mason Y'Barbo, Colby Suggs, Jake Russell and Alex Peek along with wide receiver Jace Jackson and record-setting quarterback Tyrik Rollison.

Defensively, returning starters for the Cats include defensive end Colton Nash who is getting Division I offers, Honorable Mention All-State safety Johnny McSheffery, junior safety Bryant "Day Day" Jackson who was listed among the Top 100 juniors in the state, three-year starting cornerback Darrel Franklin, linebacker Dillon Verner and linebacker/defensive back Jayden Wallace.

The Wildcats also add to the mix running back Ryan Young, an Honorable Mention All-State runner at Alba-Golden last year who went through spring drills and ran track for SSHS last semester, and three subvarsity teams that combined to go 22-8.

Still, Owens knows the schedule facing the Wildcats is brutal.

"With our schedule, we're playing three of them in the Top 10, and that's a challenge," he explained. "There's some legitimacy to it. It is ranked just right? No. But, it means they've got some players, typically.

"I know Rider, I know Longview and I know Texas High, and those teams have got players. I watched Marshall in their spring game, and their quarterback can fly. Teams we're going to face have some athletes. I feel the same way about us. I feel like we're going to be pretty good and have an opportunity to compete with those guys. They had better be ready for us, too, and they know that, and our kids know that."

Five of the District 13-4A teams made the playoffs last year, and Coach Owens stacked the non-district schedule with state-ranked Wichita Falls Rider, regional semifinalist Whitehouse, Paris and Mesquite Poteet.

So many of the teams that the Wildcats are facing have blue chip athletes. Rider quarterback Shavodrick Beaver is a Texas Football Super Team Third Team utility athlete, while his top receiver, Eric Ward, is a Super Team Second Team player. Rider running back Jurrell Thompson is listed among the Top 20 in the state, giving an indication why Rider is ranked No. 2 in Class 4A.

Along with Beaver and Sulphur Springs' Rollison as top quarterbacks is Whitehouse senior Brady Attaway, who beat the Wildcats twice last year.

Marshall senior wide receiver Damien Smith is a Top 20 nominee and his teammate Darius Jones is a Top 20 athlete.

Texas High has a pair of top-ranked defensive linemen in Garry Williams and Jacoby Thompson along with wide receiver Cobi Hamilton.

Paris linebacker Brandon Harris is a top player at his position.

"We're going to see great athletes and teams all year long," Owens said. "There are no weeks off or easy teams. It's going to be a battle for 10 weeks."

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