SIMMS, Texas — James Bowie will need some young players to develop to continue building on last season's success, which included the Pirates' first playoff appearance since 2016 and postseason win since 2013.
Heading into the second year under head coach Eddy May — in his second stint in charge of the James Bowie football program — the team returns eight lettermen and four starters on each side of the ball.
"Our first week was noticeably smoother than last year," May said. "As far as retaining what we're doing, it's the same offense we ran last year and the same defense we ran last year. The kids jumped right back in, as far as the drills, and after a couple of times it seemed we picked up right where we were last year."
Developing the younger players and gaining experience will be key for the Pirates.
"The kids are working hard and doing what we ask of them," May said. "A strength for us is that there's no surprises as far as what we're going to do, day in and day out. These kids have been in it a year. We lost 12 seniors, but a positive will be at running back; we've got three running backs back who had a bunch of carries for us last year, and our linebacking corps., which is pretty much the same kids who play running back.
"I told the kids our first week (of fall camp), that we're going to use those first five games to prepare for those last five games. Those are the ones that count."
Senior Duncan Hammond is back at tailback, and junior Gabe Brantley also had played significant time. Brantley was more of a blocking back as a sophomore, but will handle the ball more this fall for the Pirates, who open up Friday at Union Grove.
Evan Williams is working at fullback to replace a 1,600-yard rusher who graduated. Williams started at guard and defensive line as a junior.
Ethan Fields will also help in the backfield after missing most of last season with an injury.
Junior Garrett Brown is expected to take over at signal-caller after he quarterbacked the junior varsity last season. He also played some varsity in the secondary.
"Garrett's looked good in practice and has good footwork," May said. "We're not going to ask him too much, just get the right person the ball and control the clock. He can do that, and he'll improve as we go.
If Williams makes the transition to fullback, the Pirates will have all new faces on the offensive line.
"On the offensive side, we need to see how our line jells. Of those five spots, we're going to have four sophomores playing. It's going to take a little bit of time to figure out Friday night football and how to work together. We hope to see some improvement from that group, as the season progresses. We think, before it's all said and done, that the offensive line has a chance to be pretty good."
Senior Ethan Lum played as a backup but got experience in several games last season and will help on the line. Branden Hanna is another senior who will help up front. Sophomores Clayton Hanna and Blade Green have been working at guards, and Kaden Sutton has been practicing at center. Brandon Obenoskey is working at tight end as a sophomore.
Senior Tyler Crabtree returns at receiver, as well on the defense.Gallery: Texarkana Gazette's 2019 Football Edition
A lot of the defensive line situation is similar to the offensive line, as far as the Pirate coaches are trying to find the right fit and combination of players to start up front.
The Hanna brothers — Branden and Clayton — are working at defensive tackle, and Green could also help.
Williams is back at defensive end, and Lum and Obenoskey have been sharing the other end spot.
Crabtree and junior Billy Walker are the cornerbacks back to start again this fall.
Brown and Fields could play at safety, as could Justin Jackson and Gavin Rhea, both sophomores.
"On the defensive side, our secondary will need to develop," May said. "We've only got returning starters, and they're both at corner. We're working to find the right combination of safeties. That's an area we'll need to improve on before district play gets here, if we want to peak at the right time.
"We had a lot of question marks early on. Through scrimmages and these first couple of games, we hope to have a lot of those questions answered."
Hammonds and Brantley are expected to start at outside linebacker as returnees, and transfer Justin Hudgins could take over at middle linebacker for his senior year.
SECOND TIME AROUND
"Going two rounds deep last year and bringing back that bi-district trophy was big for these kids," May said. "They've never done that, as far as this group. They got a taste of what it takes to win in the playoffs; our senior group was key in getting that done, but these kids got a taste of that and they don't want to back down from those goals. We got a couple weeks of extra practice (with being in the postseason), and that goes a long way to building your program.
"Our expectations aren't any different this season. We're going to do our best to win the district, and whether that happens or not, we're going to get in the playoffs and try to win a bi-district trophy. Our goals aren't any different than they were last year. It's a challenge, but we're excited."
Aug. 30, at Union Grove
Sept. 6, Harleton
Sept. 13, at Rivercrest
Sept. 20, Quinlan Boles (Homecoming)
Sept. 27, at Price Carlisle
Oct. 4, Open date
Oct. 11, x-at Mount Enterprise
Oct. 18, x-Detroit
Oct. 25, x-at Maud
Nov. 1, x-Clarksville
Nov. 8, x-at Overton
x-Denotes District 10-2A, Div. II game. All kickoffs 7:30 p.m.
— SCHOOL: James Bowie
— 2018 RECORD: 7-5
— HEAD COACH: Eddy May
— YEARS AT SCHOOL: 2nd
— COACHING STAFF: Willie McDonald, def. coordinator/linebackers/running backs; Garrett Kruse, off. line/def. line; Richard Coleman, secondary/receivers; Sean Baskin, linebackers' off. line; Kevin Lebsack, running backs/def. line.
— LETTERMEN LOST/BACK: 12/8
— STARTERS BACK: offense 4, defense 4
— PLAYERS TO WATCH: G/RB/DE Evan Williams, WR/DB Tyler Crabtree, RB/LB Gabe Brantley, RB Duncan Hammonds, CB Billy Walker, RB Ethan Fields, OL Ethan Lum, OL Branden Hanna.
— TOP NEWCOMERS: Brandon Obenoskey, Blade Green, Garrett Brown, Justin Hudgins, Kaden Sutton, Justin Jackson, Gavin Rhea, Jared Hock, John Sabisana, Ethan Fields, Clayton Hanna.