It's feeding time for the Garrison Bulldogs. To say the undefeated District 10 1-A champs are "hungry" for a state title is an understatement.
"As of right now, it is the most important thing I have going on in my life," said Garrison tight end Russell Carrell.
2003 brought their last state championship. For head coach Craten Phillips, eight years is long enough.
"I think the expectations are really high. When you talk about you want to improve from one season to the next, we've done that since I've been here. Each year we've gotten a little better, we've had a better season, a better record. Getting better than the semi-finals only leaves you one thing: that's making it to state."
Reaching the pinnacle of 1-A high school football in Texas won't be easy.
As they learned in 2010, making it out of district unscathed can come down to just a few critical plays.
"You know, we have four one-point wins last year," said Phillips. "I know every one of those teams is going to want to avenge those losses. Those are going to be big games for us to try to make that happen again."
This year, the dogs have a bone to pick with district rival Alto. Garrison routed the Jackets in a one-point win last season. Look for this bitter rivalry to pick up where it left off in 2010.
"It was a heated game last year, you know we won by one point. I want to put a few more points on the board this year," said center Kord Bradshaw.
Putting more points on the scoreboard is all it will take for the Bulldogs to repeat as district champs. The Jackets can run the ball, but the Bulldogs have a solid balance that should give them the edge.
In addition to helping the passing game, tight end Russell Carrell will play an important role in opening-up holes.
"Last year our motto was pound the rock. We were just going to line-up and we were going to try to manhandle you across the field," said Carrell. "This year, look for a more balanced attack that includes some speed demons and watch them roll."
Picked to win their district, Garrison has a shot to make up for their only loss to Goldthwaite in the state semis. If two-a-days are any indication, the Bulldogs are at the head of the pack.
"This is the most returners I've had since I've been here," said Phillips. "We've got a small senior class, but they're a strong core and they're really good leaders. I think they're pushing the rest of the team in positive way."
Bradshaw said he is surprised by how quickly the team is coming together.
"It takes a little while for everybody to mesh together and go all-out. But you know, it's early-on and everybody's going all-out already."
Coach Phillips says there's always room for growth.
"Defensive line-wise, we're going to have a few fresh faces out there. And it's just going to be adapting to the speed of the game for those guys who haven't been on Friday night working it. But once we get that down, you know I think we'll be in good shape."
The Bulldogs struggled in 2006, 2007, and 2008 -- failing to make the playoffs. Then the team made major strides in 2009 as area finalists. Last season they were one game from a state title, even through UIL realignment dropped Garrison out of class 2-A.
Now is the time to prove who is "top dog" because for some key players, time is running out.
It's Bradshaw's senior year.
"I'm going to be graduating. I want to go out with a bang. I want to end good."
Phillips says he doesn't think his team is over-confident.
"You know we're not taking anything for granted, like I said. (Not) any kind of championships or anything like that. Our goal is to… each week, take care of that opponent each week. I think that's going to translate into some victories down the road."
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