LINDEN, Texas Linden-Kildare is playing with an emotional purpose and have tributed their season to the late Caleb Taylor.
Taylor, who would have been a senior, passed away on May 10. Taylor was the starting center for the Tigers and would have been an integral part of the team in his senior season.
"Family is our team's motto; it's on our workout clothes and on the back of the players' jerseys," Linden-Kildare head coach Derek Simmons said. "Our seniors are a tight-knit group, and they have dedicated the season to Caleb.
"We have left his locker intact and have not touched it. These guys lost a brother, and to some of us coaches it was like losing a son. It has been tough. The players break with "All for him" at the end of each practice. It's not for motivation; they are playing for his memory."
The Tigers' goal is to get better every day. Half of the players have never been on a varsity team before.
"The players that came up from the junior varsity are having to adjust to the speed of the varsity practice and to the way we do things," Simmons said. "Some of them are learning new positions, and some are getting caught up on how we do things at the varsity level. It takes some time for them to get used to it, but they are doing well."Gallery: Texarkana Gazette's 2019 Football Edition
L-K keeps the same high expectations each year and expect to be in the playoff mix. The Tigers run a spread offense.
Senior Deuce Schuler, junior Mason Johnson, and sophomore Johnathan Owen are competing for the starting quarterback position.
"I have to be patient with all three of them," Simmons said. "They each bring something different to the table. Schuler is the most athletic of the bunch, but he has never taken a varsity snap. Johnson is the most mechanically sound. Owen is a student of the game and knows the game inside and out. It will take time, but it will work itself out. We will not have three quarterbacks. We will narrow it down to two, and the third guy will go to another position. The competition between the guys is really good, and the team will rally around the one that wins the job."
LaDavion Johnson returns for his senior season at running back and will get the bulk of the carries. Johnson is going into his fourth year on the varsity team and is a 3-year starter.
"LaDavion has put on some weight and has gotten faster and stronger," Simmons said. "We aren't going to run LaDavion to death, but he knows that he has to carry a load until we settle in on some things; until the offensive line and quarterback come around. Johnson is such a hard kid to tackle. He is fast, hits opening hard and quick, and is really strong in his lower body. He is a leader and just a great all-around athlete."
The Tigers also have senior Nate Holloway, who missed last season, and Russell Nance, who transferred from Texas High, who are expected to get some time toting the rock. Nance has also been working at cornerback.
Senior Gunner Minor will start at guard, junior Hunter Johnson starts at guard, and Landon Lyles makes the move from right tackle to left tackle on the offensive line. Sophomore Jackson Lee will play at right tackle after moving up to varsity from the junior varsity. Tyler Peterson, a junior transfer from Michigan, is getting a lot of reps at center.
Senior Dave Hamilton and either Owen, Johnson, or Schuler will be the split ends. Nic Kunze, who played at left tackle a season ago, moves to H-back. Kunze also plays linebacker on defense.
"Nic's position at H-back is a hybrid between a tight end and a full back," Simmons said. "We have never had a guy that can play tight end and full back."
The Tigers have many players that will play on both sides of the ball. Da'Vion Tyson makes the move from cornerback to free safety and also plays receiver. Johnson will play cornerback on defense. Schuler will play at the other corner. Dayton Hamilton starts at strong safety in addition to his role at receiver.
"Those two-way guys will place both sides and are great athletes," Simmons said. "We moved Kunze from defensive end to middle linebacker. He has solidified our linebacking corps. We lost all three of our linebackers from last year and knew the positions would be tough to replace. We get Holloway back, and he will be our weak side linebacker.
"We have Landon Lyles and Vincent Peters back on our defensive line. They are both juniors and have looked good in camp. Our other defensive end spot has been between sophomores Jackson Lee and Ashton Harper. Both of those guys have looked good and one will have to step in to hold that spot down."
Schuler is expected to be the kicker and punter for Linden-Kildare.
"This is the largest senior class that I've had since I've been here," Simmons said. "We are excited to get things going."
Aug. 30, Hooks
Sept. 6, at Clarksville
Sept. 13, at DeKalb
Sept. 20, x-Hawkins
Sept. 27, x-Harleton
Oct. 4, x-at Garrison
Oct. 11, x-Joaquin
Oct. 25, x-at Timpson
Nov. 1, x-Beckville
Nov. 8, x-at Tenaha
x-Denotes 11-2A game
— SCHOOL: Linden-Kildare
— 2018 RECORD: 6-4
— HEAD COACH: Derek Simmons
— YEARS AT SCHOOL: 4th
— COACHING STAFF: James Edwards and John Roberts, def. coordinators; Tyson Watkins; Drew Grider; Dylan Duncan; Jeff Welch.
— LETTERMEN LOST/BACK: 5/13
— STARTERS BACK: 8 offense, 6 defense
— PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB LaDavion Johnson, TE/LB Nic Kunze, WR/DB Da'Vion Tyson, DL Vincent Peters, OL/DL Landon Liles, OL/DL Hunter Johnson, QB/DB Mason Jones, OL/DL Jackson Lee, WR/DB Dayton Hamilton, TE/LB Colton Anderson.
— TOP NEWCOMERS: DE Jackson Lee, Tyler Peterson, Russel Nance, DE Ashton Harper, Brent White, Jonathan Owen.