Since the final kick that ended their season with a state championship trophy sailed through the uprights, members of the Altus Bulldog football team have been thinking about the start of this season.
They had the one trophy — the first since 1971 — but now they wanted another.
They are hungry.
State championships are rare. Some athletes spend their entire high school careers chasing one only to come up short every single time. In a single season, lives can change and futures can be shaped.
This is why they play.
These players build bonds and have created a brotherhood among themselves. The word “family” that is printed across the tops of the player’s jerseys is a word that holds extraordinary meaning to them, from the players to the coaches.
And now, the time has come for them to once again pull the navy blue and white jerseys over their heads and step onto the football field.
“Football, as we already know, has been as exciting as anyone could have imagined,” Athletic Director Todd Ware said. “However, this is a new year with new leadership and a new group of seniors that will lead us into the season. We are about to see the result of the work ethic and endless hours of physical preparation that the team has already endured through the spring and summer workouts. We are in a very competitive district as always and we see every opponent as a threat, but I feel our program will be in the hunt for a district championship.”
This team will be without several key players from last year’s championship team, but they have not spent any time dwelling on it.
Instead, this team has spent that time adjusting, filling in positions left by once-in-a-lifetime players and knowing that while those players cannot be replaced, they have enough talent that someone will be able to step up and make a difference.
“I’m very hesitant to say you can replace any player because whether he is an all-stater or not, each player is different,” Head Coach Todd Vargas said. “But I will say this, the kids that we have that are going to assume some positions are going to be very gifted. We feel we can be very explosive offensively, we have just as much speed on the offensive side as we did last season. Defensively, I feel we are going to actually be faster and I am very excited about this defense — very excited about both sides of the ball. The kids that are coming in are going to be able to perform at a very high level.”
A positive for this team is that the Bulldogs will not be completely without some of the players that got them to the championship game last season as Sean Torres, Tito Jones, Sha’Quan French, Kameron Conchola, Keegan Pride, Tyler Garcia, Hassan Foye, Marcus Molina, Terrell Ridenour, Noah Villareal, Hunter Cleveland, Josue Arroyo, Adrian Rodriguez, Austin Baldwin and Logan Marsh will all be returning for their senior year.
But Vargas also wants it to be known that their focus is on something much more different.
“Our focus is not the state championship, but what I do know is that we have a group of young men that are very talented,” said Vargas. “We return a lot of speed and we have kids in skill positions that can make plays on both sides of the ball. We return six starters on offense and eight on defense, and those are kids that started at least one or more games for us last year. We have a very good and athletic senior group and we have a good nucleus of younger players that will help us tremendously.”
“The sky is the limit for whatever we want to achieve. We have the ability, but it is putting it all together that matters. It is not just the athleticism but also the cognitive side, the leadership, all of those things have to come together,” he said. “That’s what we did last year. When we needed to, big plays happened and that’s how we won and we feel that we have all the same ingredients this year.”
When asked about his goals for this coming season, Vargas did not mention the state championship even once, electing instead to focus on the keys to the teams’ success.
“We talk often about the daily process and it’s about being the best that we can be as players and as coaches,” Vargas said. “My anticipation for this team is that we assembled a group of young men and coaches that work extremely hard every day. We tell the kids all the time that our colors are navy blue for a reason. We are a blue collar community that works hard and is very proud of the job they do, and we feel the same way about our football team. We know that what we received in notoriety or wins is all due to the hard work and preparation that we put into it.”
And now, football season is here once again and the Altus Bulldogs are working tirelessly to improve every facet of their game before the Aug. 26 date with Clinton.
They have put in the time and the work and the only thing that can stand in the way of this team at this point is itself.
“In a nutshell, this team is full of talent. There is the experience in some of areas that we’re going to have to replace,” Vargas said. “We have a little bit different of a schedule than last year, but when we look at our team and the schedule, we feel like we have a chance to be extremely successful.”
“These kids have put in the time and effort and a lot of people just don’t understand how much time they really spend all year-round preparing for the season,” he said. “The coaches have been preparing all through the spring and summer for this season and we feel like we’re going to be able to put a team out on the football field that is going to make the community of Altus very proud. That’s our goal at least.”
Win or lose, this team will be something special. It is a family unit that thrives under the lights and pressure of Friday night football. A team that does not mind the target that has undoubtedly been placed on its back.
The focus is on doing everything right. Winning is just a byproduct of that system.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.