ALTO, TX (AP) - Alto has wasted no time getting back onto the field. They're stinging with a new purpose and looking to prove they can fill in voids that some were not expected to be filled.
Between last year's graduation and losing their teammate Cam'ron Matthews last season under the lights, it's a memory they won't forget. Instead, they intend to move forward with their past under a clean slate into the new season.
"We definitely had a tragedy happen to us last year. Cam'ron's passing was definitely something a 17 and 18-year-old kid shouldn't have to deal with," said Alto head coach Paul Gould. "It's part of our past, it's part of who we are, and we're going to embrace that. We're going to come out here."
Picked to finish first in their district, the Yellowjackets are back at it again with their usual high expectations. Looking to get the job done will be a mixed crop of old and new faces.
Alto produced an East Texas rushing leader last year in quarterback Keenen Johnson, who has now graduated, and left a not-so-average sophomore, Fred Thacker, to fill in the role.
Standing at 6-2, 230 pounds, Thacker also has the experience of playing on varsity last year.
"The question is can they bring him down?" said senior receiver Mikkah Hackett. "They can think what they want, but I'm pretty sure he's going to run over some people and he's going to drag some people to the end zone because he's going to get there."
"I will surprise a lot of people," said Thacker. "People think because Keenen's gone, we won't be nothing this year. Well, they're wrong about that."
"I think the skies the limit for Fred," said Gould. "We're extremely excited that he did get some reps and got some snaps at the quarterback position last year during meaningful games. We're hopeful it will carry over this year."
If he hasn't already set an example on the team, Hackett certainly will now going into his senior year.
"Mikkah, first and foremost, is going to be the leader of this team. I have great expectations for Mikkah," said Gould.
While Hackett puts on a clinic offensively, the stats read he's not just one-sided. With 78 tackles last year, a team-leading 34 tackles for loss and another team and East Texas leading 11 sacks, Hackett is eyeing nothing less than a state ring.
"We've been through a lot, but we came back as a team. That made us stronger and I guarantee, I'm going to try my best to get every ball there is," said Hackett.
"Me and Mikkah are going to be close this year," said Fred. "When I throw it up, he'll get it. When he blocks, I'll run. It's going to be pretty tight."
Alto enters the season ranked 8th in the state, which is the highest placement of any East Texas 2A school. They'll open their season against Winona on August 26th.