The talent in 3A’s toughest District has been well chronicled in recent months. Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine has four of the district’s six teams in the Top 14. Henderson, a State Champ in 2010 is ranked No. 8, Chapel Hill, a State Champ last season is ranked No. 11, the Buckeyes are ranked No. 12, and Kilgore, who is dropping down from a Regional Finalist appearance is 4A last year, is ranked No. 14.
The Coaches Poll from 3A head coaches has Chapel Hill at No. 3, Gilmer at No. 7, Henderson at No. 9 and Kilgore at No. 10.
There is no doubt Coach Traylor, his staff and his team have their work cut out for them, but as Buckeye fans know, this group is excited about the possibilities and is preparing for the task at hand with great expectations.
The biggest concern for the coaching staff and Buckeye fans is who will be the starting quarterback. This is something that was decided long before now in most of the last 12 seasons, but is still up in the air at this point. The first thing we addressed with the Buckeye Boss was how the process was coming along.
“We have been blessed. Of our 12 years here, 11 years we have been quarterbacked by (players who became) college quarterbacks, so that’s a pretty phenomenal streak. This year we have three good quarterbacks, it’s just a matter of which one’s gonna do it. We’ll go in alphabetical order because I don’t want anybody reading (anything) into it. Tanner Barr, you know, he’s always been a good quarterback. He was a sophomore and we had him play safety. I’ve always known he was a great safety. Most people see them play on Fridays and I’ve seen them their entire lives, so I don’t have surprises. It did not surprise me Tanner would have that many interceptions (10 last season). He’s always been a great safety. Tanner’s working hard at it, he throws the ball well, he just needs experience. Was injured a lot the last two years with his arm so he didn’t get to play a lot at quarterback.”
“McLane Carter is the kid that’s played quarterback his whole career, and he’s a very pure passer of the football. He’s working his tail off. Obviously it would be better for me (if he won the position) because he’s a sophomore. Then we could not move Tanner and not move Jaidon (Parrish), but I believe the quarterback is the most important position on the field, so I’m going to always have the best one there.”
“Jaidon Parrish is tough minded, he’s a catcher, physical kid that throws the ball well, but he had to play so much fullback, tight end and receiver last year, so he didn’t get to work much at quarterback. So, you’ve got two kids who didn’t get to work hardly any at quarterback last year, and McLane who quarterbacked the JV team, so we’re in the 3-man race. We’ll just wait and see how it turns out. I know that you cannot ever err on the side of cheating quarterbacks out of their reps. The reason Jordan (Traylor) was so successful when he came in was he played so much at quarterback when he was younger. If he hadn’t done all that playing time, he wouldn’t have been able to succeed. So, we’re going to go slow with it (naming a starter), and non-district games are very important.”
“Everybody knows I want to win them all, but the truth is when we play Gladewater we’re both going to be 0-0. Our goal every year is to win a State Championship, it’s not to go undefeated. We’re going to try to go undefeated, but in the end you want to have a team that can win a State Championship, and that’s what we’re shooting for. We’re preparing for the end in mind; we’re not preparing for the beginning in mind. We might sputter against Atlanta (in the season opener on Aug. 30 at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in Tyler). They’re gonna be picked to beat us anyway, so we’re not going to rush our quarterback decision.”
“I don’t know when we’ll make the decision. I really don’t know because there are so many variables. It just depends. You could very well see two quarterbacks play against Atlanta, you could see three, and you might see one. We might let all three of them do the things they do well in the first game. I really don’t know. We are going to let it play itself out. Ideally, I believe in having one quarterback, but I’m going to try to develop all three of them because they are all returning again (for the 2013 season). Most of my team’s returning, so you might as well prepare for the long run here, and no matter what, McLane’s a sophomore so you want to get him reps because you want him to be prepared, too.”
We also asked his thoughts about his offensive unit as a whole. “You’re going to start with your kids that are returning. Those are always going to be the ones with the most chance of success. Brady English is a kid that played some as a sophomore and a ton as a junior, Dillon Sampson, he’ll start (on the line) as a junior, and then Chase (Tate) played quite a bit. The think about Chase is he is so mature for his age. He acts like a senior, he’s very coachable and he loves to play the game. He’s a tough kid. He’s only 5’4”, 140 pounds, which scares us all to death, which is probably why he’s a fan favorite. Trey Washington played quite a bit of defense last year and played some receiver, so you’d think there’d be some carryover there. Slade Morris was injured a lot, but we expect him to do things for us. Justus Cheatham was a receiver that played some, but we don’t have a lot of kids that played a lot. We’re very, very young on the offensive side of the ball.”
“We’re gonna put our best 22 out there. If I’ve got four good outside linebackers and no tailbacks, and two of the four are over there on defense, I’m going to put two of them on offense. It just depends on where you’re heavy and where you’re light. Right now we’re pretty heavy at running back as far as names, and we’ll see which ones play well in the games. We have a whole lot of question marks, but the good news is we have a whole lot of names to answer (the bell). We just don’t know what the answers are yet.”
“We have about 150 kids out from the freshmen on up. That’s about 15 more than usual. If they don’t have a job, I don’t encourage them to play. We have a saying around here, ‘We don’t want any hamburger eaters’, so earn your hamburger. You’re playing scout team or you’re doing something. You have a role on the team. We’re not a program that’s really concerned about our numbers. There are coaches who love to talk about their numbers, but the number we really care about is how many good football players we have that are good players and care about the team. Where that number ends up, I don’t know. I don’t like to carry any more than 40 on the varsity, 38-40 on the JV and maybe 45 freshmen.”
Coach Traylor also discussed the tough non-district schedule with Atlanta, Prestonwood, Jacksonville and Daingerfield. “Atlanta’s returning everybody, Jacksonville’s returning everybody, Prestonwood’s got some unbelievable Division I players. Those three teams are returning so many people and we lost so many people. I think it’s great to do it (have a tough
opening schedule). One, nobody else will play us. I wouldn’t mind scheduling maybe a little bit softer than that. That’s a little much for the young team that we have, but it will make us better in the long run. If we’ll just split those first four…you don’t want to ever go in there and say we’ll lose two games, but realistically if you could get 2-2 out of those first four, you would have pretty good non-district success because the teams are so good.”
The question on every Buckeye’s mind is the coach’s thoughts on District of Doom 2. As expected, the coach didn’t shy away from his feelings. “My first years we were in a very tough district, then we had eight years of favor, and then we’ve had four years (including the next two) of not so. I still contend if we come out of the thing healthy we’ll be ready. Unfortunately, the last two years we’ve just come out so beat up. We didn’t just lose players, we lost our best players. It’s just very hard to overcome losing Eric Miller, Michael Boddie, Chris Miller that one year and then losing Luke last year. Those are four of as good a player as I’ve had come through my program. Eric and Chris were All-State, Michael was All-State and Luke was All-State. We lost four All-State football players the last two years and still had great seasons, but it just takes its toll when you get that deep in the playoffs losing that many great players. If we can make the playoffs, come out of it (district) healthy, you’re so battle-tested.”
We asked the Buckeye mentor if he had ever recalled having seen four teams from the SAME district being ranked in the Top 14 before. “It would seem like it would be impossible, other than the SEC. I can’t imagine anything like it in Texas high school football. What’s more disappointing is you can’t control it. You look around and there’s teams with five teams in their district right around us and we have seven, so why not just put one of them over there in one of those districts. It almost assures you that a computer must be doing it because if it was a human, common sense you would hope would prevail and there was no common sense to this decision.”
Additionally, we asked the coach’s thoughts on how the team has looked after two weeks of practice. “We about what I thought we’d be like. We’re very young, we’re energetic and we’re exciting, we run around pretty good and we’re a mess all at once. It’s like having a bunch of young high school teenagers in your house. That’s what we are, and we lost a great group of seniors and these seniors are earning their way. They’ll learn how to lead and they’ll be fine. They’ll figure it out. We’ll be okay. If we can just get to the open week above board; we just want to get to the open week (Oct. 19, halfway through the district schedule) and still be in it. If we can get there, I think we’ll be real good. I just don’t know what we’re going to do before then. We need to hang in there till the open week.”
“I’m very worried about my offensive line. They’re great kids, but that’s the only group on the field where all five have to work together as a unit, and if one of them makes a mistake, it makes the whole team look bad. Those are great kids. I don’t doubt any kid individually; we just have to be good collectively. We’ve gotta have a quarterback that can execute, we’ve gotta have running backs that block, run and catch the ball. We haven’t seen any of those do that on Friday night yet. Josh (Walker) did a little bit last year as a sophomore. We’ve gotta have receivers to replace Darrion Pollard, Tray Webb and Eddie Fluellen. They’ve done it on the lower levels, but haven’t done it on Friday nights. Defensively, we think we have a chance to be pretty good over there, but if Tanner’s the quarterback, you’ve got to replace a safety, if Josh is the tailback, now you replace an outside linebacker. Can enough running backs play so we can leave those guys on defense, can another quarterback come on so we can leave Tanner on defense? So many question marks, and it will just work itself out. It always has and it will again. At some point we’ll make some decisions, but today’s not the day. That’s what these scrimmages are for. We don’t have spring ball. IF we had spring ball, a lot of these decisions would already be made, but we don’t have it so your decision-making comes a little bit later than in 4A and 5A.”
We closed our visit with Coach Traylor asking if there was anything additionally he’d like to discuss with the fans. “Our motto, ‘Villafuerte’. The last kid we had a motto named after was Chaz Kuikahi, won a State Championship in ’04, and his name meant ‘Coming Together as One’. Anthony Villafuerte’s last name means ‘Strong Village’ or ‘Strong Home’, so it’s perfect for Gilmer. We have a very strong village; very loyal to our program. I guess what I’m more excited about than ever is the community support that’s helping us with our young men. So many people are just helping them. Businesses are very proud of the work our kids are doing with their businesses; there are so many people in our Adopt a Buckeye program now you can just tell the community understands that we’re trying to do a whole lot more than just win ball games. We’re trying to affect kids for life. So many of my former players are coaches now. I’ve got Coach Canady on my staff who was my player, I hired Coach Lovely, Terrence Lovely, who played for us on the ’04 State Championship team, Coach Cunningham played here. I coached him in 2000. I’m just getting old enough where maybe I’ve got to wear glasses now and maybe I’m bald headed, but the good thing about getting older is you see how things are really coming along and I’m just really excited about my community and how much they love the Buckeyes. We’re going to keep trying our best to make them proud, and I think this team will when it’s all said and done.”
Coach Traylor, his staff and his players have never backed away from what at times seemed like impossible odds, and you can rest assured this team will not do so either. Keep plenty of gas in the car and be ready for some road trips in late November and early December again this season. With the hard work we KNOW this group will put in, and IF they can remain healthy, another State Championship trophy just might be in the cards for our Gilmer Buckeyes! Go BUX!!!