SADLER — There was going to be change after a winless season, as is often the case, and the Rams were preparing for all that comes with such a decision. Different philosophies and schemes. New ideas and points of view.
But it can be hard to make giant leaps in a short amount of time. Usually the foundation gets put into place at a little bit of a slower pace. S&S is hoping that growth in the future will come a little bit faster, with a reminder that the program’s recent success — playoff appearances from 2013-17 — isn’t that far in the past.
"We made strides. We improved throughout the season," Rams head coach Josh Aleman said. "We’re definitely not where we wanted to be. If we can keep building on that and get better this year, I think the results will be different."
The Rams finished 1-9 in Aleman’s inaugural season, losing the first seven games before a 25-7 victory against Callisburg snapped an 18-game losing streak. It was something positive to build on, a step forward with almost all of the other games better efforts when compared to the prior season. However, effort is only a starting point.
"I feel like everyone’s got a year under our belts and the mentality to play here," Aleman said. "We’ve been working hard every week. (We) couldn’t be more excited about year two."
There were just four seniors on the team last season and the big loss is Devin Jackson, who was a second-team all-district linebacker, fourth on the team in rushing and is slated to walk-on for defending national champion LSU.
Also gone are linemen Matt Billmeier, Elyjah Herrin-Baze and Ace Mabry.
Senior Jake Reynolds returns at quarterback. After missing almost his entire sophomore year, he completed 61-of-169 passes for 538 yards and eight touchdowns with 13 interceptions and ran 95 times for 269 yards and four touchdowns last season.
"Leadership of an offense; control in the huddle," Aleman said about what he wants to see in his signal-caller. "That’s what we’ve got to have. We have a lot of seniors so I expect that senior leadership."
Senior Joey Baggs led the team in rushing with 93 carries for 479 yards and three touchdowns while senior Colby McSpedden was third on the roster with 70 carries for 239 yards and a TD. Junior Gavyn Collins could also contribute in the backfield.
There are a bevy of candidates for the wide receiver spots, most having already played significant snaps.
Senior Blake Smith, who was honorable mention all-district, led S&S in receiving with 17 catches for 173 yards and two TDs. Senior Keane Ortega (six catches, 53 yards) is also back and so are classmates Cannen Fellegy (eight catches, 80 yards, TD) and Cooper Herron (five catches, 69 yards, TD).
"Every receiver’s back," Aleman said. "Those guys are busting their tails to earn their spot. There’s a little bit of depth there."
Juniors Joey Carter and Colten Courville, who transferred from Aubrey, are also in the mix.
Junior Nathanael Rainey, who totaled eight catches, is back at tight end.
There are three senior starters returning on the offensive line: Edgar Aguilar, who was an honorable mention all-district pick, Kody Kerr and Ethan Thomas. The newcomers come at the tackle spots and there is a battle for both positions.
Right tackle is between senior Jeffrey Janway and junior Cade Russell and left tackle is between seniors Jason Hayes and Josh Wilson.
"We’re battling every day to see who earns those spots," Aleman said.
On defense, the Rams are in the second year of running the 3-4 and will look to improve after allowing at least 41 points in six contests.
Along the defensive line you will find Aguilar, Thomas and Wilson.
Junior linebacker Kota Richardson was a second-team all-district pick and sophomore Chase Sloan is back on the unit as well. They are joined on the outside by some combination of Collins, senior Gage Moore and junior Eli Mahan.
"I think our linebackers have a chance to be really good," Aleman said.
The secondary is much like the receiver spot, with almost the exact similar competition playing out. Smith, Carter, Herron and junior Daymon Orr all have experience there. Courville and Fellegy are also in the mix.
"Same exact scenario over there," Aleman said. "Who wants to be the starter? The depth is putting the heat on people to perform in practice."
Senior Suzy Griffin returns to handle kicking duties for the third straight season, while Reynolds is the punter.
Realignment brought the Rams back towards Texoma so there will be fewer road trips, but the strength of S&S’ new district — 8-3A (II) — didn’t change much. That’s because Gunter, the defending 3A Division II champ, came with the Rams and they enter a group that includes four playoff teams from last season in Bells, Whitewright, Leonard and Blue Ridge as well as Lone Oak, which dropped down from Division II.
"Our district didn’t get any easier," Aleman said. "We have our work cut out for us."