NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - From the moment the first football preview magazine comes out a team's hopes for a playoff can be destroyed. Nacogdoches High School, after finishing last season's 3-7 record falls in that category. They're picked to miss the playoffs again in 20-11.
The experts have the Nacogdoches Dragons picked to finish sixth in district 14-4a football. Perhaps they haven't heard about the 'attitude adjustment'.
"There's a very positive attitude," starts Dragon's head coach, Scott Ford. "Kids have been through an entire off season, so we're like everybody. We're excited. We're definitely far ahead of where we were this point last year."
And that's just not the head coach talking.
Listen to quarterback Damion Johnson, an athlete the coach calls the best player in the district. "It's just our overall attitude. We got a better attitude than we did last year about things," says Johnson.
"We're looking forward to the season. We got a lot of effort." and Xavier Gordon, a top notch defensive tackle. "I expect for us to have a great year. Individually, I expect to have a great year also," said the quiet spoken Gordon.
This coming from the same team that had an attendance problem last season. This change in attitude can be attributed in a big way to Dr. Dennis Parker.
"I'm going to give you a chance to win, understand that," says Parker to some players during a hot afternoon practice. The retired football coach has two state championships under his belt. NISD gets the 0 and 11 Texas Lutheran retiree as a volunteer coach. Doesn't hurt his former player is Coach Ford.
It gets better. Parker's own development of character curriculum is used around the world, he's teaching the life lessons to the team.
"I'm being a vocal leader, you know. Just lead by example, rather it's on the field or off," said Johnson.
No doubt, attitude is bonding the dragons. "We had an off season together, so we have a nucleus. We have a foundation," said Ford. "we got a great group of senior leaders that will take us as far as we go."
In the off season Parker went to work on the attitude of local business people. They're all potential boosters.
"You are going to do one of two things. You either going to be reactive. You're going to react to a lack of character or you're going to be pro-active," said Parker in an earlier interview. "And you are going to try to teach character and so the business community can not only finance it, but they can advertise it. They can help with it. They can do all kinds of things."
Positive reinforcement is heard at every practice. "That's right there. Great job," is heard from Parker and all the other coaches on the field. That can't help but make mom and dad feel good as they listen from the sidelines.
A good attitude doesn't mean you can't be tough. "You got to hit them right in the mouth," instructs Parker to a player about to conduct a drill.
And it will take some of that toughness to place last year's grueling 12-overtime game in which the Dragons lost 84 to 81 out of fan's minds.
Coach Ford criticizes a rule influencing teams to give away touchdowns to increase their chances at the playoffs. If the coach gets his way, that won't be necessary this season.
"We expect to compete for a district championship. That's what we expect," said Ford. "That's what I expect as a coach. We haven't won a district championship in Nacogdoches since 1982, so obviously, we have come in and made some changes and hopefully those changes will start sooner than later generating some definite results."
"We have a great coaching staff. Everyone is wanting to win state," said Gordon.
"One of our goals is a district championship," echoed Johnson. "That's to solidify the playoffs. That's an automatic qualifier. We're going to a district championship."
A positive attitude, hard work and determination may lead to those so called football experts retracting their previously written statements. Now, that's the attitude!
Scott Ford is returning six out of eleven starters on offense. Likewise, six out of eleven starters on defense.
And here are some Nacogdoches players to notice this season.
Quarterback Damion Johnson is a key part of the offense. Last year stats show 908 yards passing, 10 touchdowns passes, 544 rushing and 7 touchdowns rushing.
Sophomore linebacker Greg Roberts is surely to have inherited some of his dad's talents. He won the Outland Trophy as the best offensive lineman in the nation in 1978.
And Marcus Johnson only has played one game as a Dragon, but the transfer student made the most of it. He rushed for 150 yards.