When it comes to scheduling non-district football games, there’s playing up against a higher level of school – and then there is what the Gonzales High School Apaches are doing.
The 4A-2 Apaches not only open the 2020 campaign Friday, Aug. 28 against a 4A-1 opponent, but in the El Campo Ricebirds they face a team that is picked to be among the top teams in the region and a state-title contender.
“We had great success last year in a brutal non-district schedule, but, that was beating some teams that were smaller than us … so we really set out a goal to find all 4A schools,” said head coach Mike Waldie. “Well, then, you go 8-3, and it gets even harder to schedule. Your goal of not scheduling down becomes even harder because the only 4As that want any part of you are really, really good.”
El Campo went 10-3 just one year after missing the playoffs.
“El Campo is one of those very physical, old-school, hit-you-in-the-mouth type programs,” Waldie said. “They’re the one I like to play early.”
They return what Dave Campbell’s Texas Football is a trio of running backs that would make some 6A programs envious. Johntre Davis (1,732 yards, 23 touchdowns), Charles Shorter (1,141 yards/15 TDs) and Rueben Owens (808 yards/8 TDs) are all back for the 2020 campaign. Oh, and receiver Nathan Willis has 4.5-speed in the 40.
“What they really have are some skill kids that really make you take a deep breath every time they touch ball,” Waldie said.
What is not back for the Ricebirds are four starting offensive linemen who cleared the way for the running backs going up against an Apache defense that returns nine starters.
The Ricebirds are also without its four defensive linemen from 2019.
“For us, facing a tough, even defense with four-down linemen – we’ve got a lot of that coming up down the road – which is why I’m glad we’re seeing it now,” Waldie said.
The Apaches will counter with their large and experienced starting five offensive linemen and some solid skill players of their own.
Sophomore Jarren Johnson will start at quarterback, but expect to see junior Brett Breitschopf taking snaps, too. Both connected for 40-plus-yard plays in the scrimmage against Devine.
The flow of the game will determine the quarterback snaps versus having a set number of snaps going in.
Waldie, however, said the quarterback situation remains a battle.
Waldie said one key will be to limit El Campo to three scores while putting up four score of their own.
In addition, tackling and protecting the ball will be key against an El Campo team that makes teams pay for errors.
He also said that special teams play would be critical, especially in not giving away a score on a punt or kickoff return. The squad is young after the Apaches graduated 24 seniors who filled multiple positions on last year’s special teams.
Jon Tejada will handle the kickoffs and extra points, while Jared Cook will do the rugby-style punting.
The team also has two new snappers in Jacob Bakken for punts and Christian Almaguer for field goals and point-afters.
“In this type of game, you might win it on a two-point conversion, blocked punt or on a penalty-free kick,” Waldie said.