For a team with lofty expectations, opening the 2017 football season under the lights of Allen’s Eagle Stadium is a perfect launch pad for Lovejoy.
The Leopards will face Class 4A power Argyle on Saturday in the second game of the Tom Landry Classic in Allen, the 18th rendition of the event that is now the longest tenured high school “classic” in the country. The event kicks off on Friday with a game between Allen and Cedar Hill.
It’s the second year in a row that Lovejoy has opened its gridiron season against Argyle, albeit this year’s game has a bit more pomp and circumstance surrounding it. But after the shine of the festivities has worn off, it’s simply another football game for Lovejoy head coach Todd Ford’s crew.
“We’re really honored to be playing in this game, named after what I think is one of the greatest head coaches in all of sports,” Ford said. “Our kids definitely have a little pep in their step leading up to this one, but we’re also comfortable playing in [Eagle Stadium].”
There are plenty of other marquee games on Lovejoy’s lineup this season, simply by being in District 15-5A.
Lovejoy finished in fifth place in district last season and narrowly missed the playoffs; however, Ford returns the majority of his impact players on offense and defense, including second-year quarterback Carson Collins and senior linebacker and Arkansas-commit Bumper Pool, among others. The defense is loaded with playmakers, and Collins has one of the best wide receivers in the area to throw to in senior Chase Van Wagoner, a TCU commit.
In a district that contains Mesquite Poteet, which advanced to the state semifinals last season, and the reigning 5A state champion Highland Park, Ford knows that nothing is given.
“By the time the playoffs roll around we’ll definitely be battle-tested,” he said. “But, we really try to take it one week at a time around here.”
Led by quarterback John Stephen Jones, Highland Park went undefeated through 15-5A play and the playoffs en route to a victory over Temple in the 5A championship game. Poteet, which ran roughshod through the opening rounds of the playoffs before eventually losing to Aledo in the state semifinals, is poised for another successful season. And the third and fourth seeds from 15-5A last year, West Mesquite and Wylie East, both won playoff games, as well.
Lovejoy’s non-district schedule provides the type of challenge Ford wants his team to face prior to opening 15-5A play. After Argyle, the Leopards face two of the better teams in the Metroplex in Frisco Wakeland and Frisco Lone Star.
“Great competition in non-district games mean you play that much better in district games, and in turn, that much better in the playoffs,” Ford said. “And we have a really tight-knit group of players that seem to be on the road to improvement. They enjoy getting after it and have a good time getting better, which is all you can really ask for as a coach.”
Argyle presents challenges of its own, specifically in senior running back Dom Williams. With last year’s starting quarterback Dane Ledford sidelined with injuries, Williams emerged as an offensive force for the Eagles and finished the season with 1,517 yards and 23 touchdowns. He will be the bell cow for this Argyle offense that just recently incorporated Jon Copeland as the starting quarterback.
Lovejoy’s offense poses threats of its own, with the passing game expected to play a big role in the Leopards’ attack on Saturday. The chemistry between Collins and Van Wagoner grew as the season progressed last year, and if the Argyle defense decides to key in on Van Wagoner, other options will open up for the junior quarterback.
If the Lovejoy defense can key in on Williams, it will go a long way towards defeating the Eagles in Week One.
“I feel like Week One games are lost rather than won,” Ford said. “Both teams are just getting their feet wet, and there’s going to be some mistakes that you wouldn’t make at the end of the season, or even mid-season. So we, as coaches, just try to focus on the controllables. If we do that, it should be a great game.”
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