NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Typically graduation is something to be celebrated but maybe not so much for the Nacogdoches Dragon football team.
Unfortunately the cap and gowns last year left a big void for the underclassmen to fill. Head Coach Bobby Reyes is going to be leaning heavily on the underclassmen this year to step up.
"We're starting four underclassmen in the offensive line, two underclassmen at receiver, an underclassmen at quarterback and a underclassmen at running back," said Reyes.
The list only goes on from there. That's why it's critical the Dragons wasted no time getting an early start to the season now.
Nacogdoches is returning just nine starters and only three of those belong to the offensive side.
"I'm happy where we're going. I'm not happy where we are but we're going to get where we need to be," said Reyes.
The team may by young but Reyes is not one to panic. He took over a 0-10 program and has now lead the Dragons to two back-to-back 7-4 seasons with post season play involved.
"If you do a good job of setting your program, just because you got a junior or sophomore starting doesn't mean they can't be good players," said Reyes. "If they've been in your system and understand your system, the only thing they don't have is varsity experience."
Reyes added that's what the scrimmages and the non-district schedule are for, to knock out any of those varsity jitters.
The offense will be flooded with new faces including the quarterback position which opened up with the loss of two-year starter Hunter McClellan. Nacogdoches has a pool of players they're still choosing from for their next QB.
Junior Ki'ave Glover and senior Michael Garrett will be returning this year from junior varsity. The Dragons also got a little gift from Bossier City, Louisiana with Noah Hildebrand. He comes in as a junior with varsity experience.
"I think between the three of them, we're going to find a guy who's going to take the reins and do a good job for us. All three have positive things you can say about them," said Reyes.
You usually see this guy making tackles and robbing teams with interceptions, but look out this year for a healthy Brandon Jones carrying the ball into the end zone. The senior has had a national spotlight on him as a safety, but actually played running back until his freshmen year.
"We may see a little Brandon Jones. We were going to do it last year but he got hurt and we couldn't do it," said Reyes.
"I'm looking forward to it. It's a great feeling getting interceptions and making tackles, but I think it's an even better feeling to score some touchdowns," said Jones.
Some young bucks may be leading Jones' path, but Reyes sees promise that the offensive lines age has no correlation to their size or ability.
"We're big this year. We got a large offensive line. We got good feet and they're strong," said Reyes. "We know there's going to be some growing pains but we're going to get our kids prepared and be ready to go."
The Dragons were picked to finish fifth in the "District of Doom" this season, a ranking the team is not worried about. Last year, Nacogdoches was picked to finish fifth and ended up finishing third in the district to punch themselves a ticket into the playoffs.