Things are going to be very, very different for the Abilene Eagles this year.
Their 2016 campaign was more than solid. They suffered a slightly embarrassing blowout loss to San Angelo Central in the season opener, but absolutely caught fire during their district scheduling. The closest anyone got to them until their final game was Keller Timber Creek, and the Eagles still pulled out a 56-31 win.
Arguably the focal point of last year’s season was a third round matchup with DeSoto, where they gave the eventual state champions the fight of their lives. At one point, the black and gold Eagles were up 14-0, and headed into the half up 31-21. A controversial fumble gave the green and gold Eagles the ball back with mere seconds remaining, and Shawn Robinson punched the ball in from 13 yards out to give DeSoto the 49-45 win.
Abilene will graduate many top contributors. Stars Peyton Killam and Abram Smith are gone, as is a significant chunk of their scrappy defense. All in all, only two starters remain on offense and only four return on defense.
So, with this amount of attrition, Abilene is going to be forced to do something that not many 6A programs have to do – play some of their top talent on both sides of the ball.
Defensive back Doak Holloway, who will become a wide receiver in addition to his duties at safety, is looking forward to the changes.
“It’s real tiring. It’s a lot more stuff to learn,” said Holloway. “But, I kind of like playing offense, so I don’t mind it that much.”
“In the spring, it was real good for us to get start getting some of the underclassmen in there and start learning the ways and stuff,” Holloway said about the youth on the team. The attrition Abilene faces isn’t uncommon, many teams across the state will have to replace offenses and defenses, but none might have lost more than the Eagles.
Wide receiver Raekwon Millsap will also become a name you’ll start hearing on both sides of the ball. He caught 8 touchdowns last year in addition to 862 yards, but his role will be expanding everywhere.
“I’d just say (about playing both ways in the fall) that it’s challenging and tiring also,” said Millsap, echoing Holloway’s previous comments. “But, the coaches needed us to do it, so we’re both willing to step up and play both ways for our team.”
In West Texas, the level of unification a team has can make you or break you. Athletes tend to crop up more often in the bigger cities, and the smaller towns have to push forward knowing that they aren’t going to be stocked with kids that all have D-1 offers every year. Players like Millsap and Holloway are looked to for expanded roles, but in the 6A ranks, playing both ways isn’t normally a necessity for most successful teams. The pair are ready to take on the task anyways.
“We’re all just going to step up and do our roles like we’re supposed to,” said Millsap. “…It’s our turn to step up and pave the way for the younger kids.”
Abilene will open the 2017 season with a big game against San Angelo Central at home on September 1st.
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