VAN – The high school football season at times looked uncertain for the Palestine Wildcats.
But what is for certain is when the Wildcats hit the field Friday night they won't lack physicality.
Year two for head coach Lance Angel and his Wildcats begin Friday, on the road, against the Van Vandals – a former district opponent of Palestine who bested them 21-14 in 2019.
Now the Wildcats open the season searching for improvement from their seven-point lost against Van last season.
“We poorly executed against them last year,” Angel said. “The mentality all week has been we have to execute what we do. Execution leads to success for us.”
After losing 17 players to graduation last year, there will be many news faces leading Palestine on both sides of the ball – beginning with a pair of new faces at quarterback and running back.
Junior Jarrod Walker was named Palestine's starting quarterback this week, while Jakaryon Conley will head the Wildcat backfield.
“It's exciting to see new players step up,” Angel said. We want them relaxed and playing full speed. We want to see if they're comfortable in this first game.”
The evaluation process will be different for coaches across the board this year. Teams are usually afforded two scrimmages before kickoff. This time just one.
The biggest thing to watch for with Palestine is how they'll players respond on special teams this Friday. Angel said they are still getting into a normal routine in practice.
But with such a quick turnaround from their first scrimmage they've had to condense a lot of the game preparation time, they enjoyed in prior years to just a week.
In that preparation comes watching for Van key players Javonta Thomas and Mauricio Herrera. Thomas racked up 800 yards receiving in his junior year, along with eight touchdowns.
Herrera was lost to injury last season at linebacker, but still compiled 89 tackles and 14 tackles for a loss – he's Dave Campbell's favorite for preseason defensive MVP.
Though the Vandals lost 25 players to graduation last season, they still bring out one of the more “fundamentally sound” defenses the Wildcats will play, according to Angel.
“We have no doubt our kids will be physical,” Angel said. “Last year's juniors are now starting to step into the role of being leaders. Seeing that class do that will make a huge difference in how far we'll go.”
Palestine's season opener will kick off at 7:30 p.m. inside Van Memorial Stadium. Tickets WILL NOT be sold at the gate. They can be purchases through the school. A limited number of tickets are available.