At exactly 7:30 AM, a whistle breaks the morning silence with a shrill “veeeeep“. In a split second, around a hundred young men wearing all black workout gear and gold helmets snap to attention, every fiber of their being focused on the upcoming practice. The morning is crisp and slightly cool, but the sun rising in the east begets the hot day ahead.
For the last 20 years, the Abilene High Eagles have pillaged their way through West Texas. Over the 19 years of Steve Warren’s rule, the Eagles won a whopping 175 games and made the playoffs 14 seasons in a row. After Warren’s retirement, offensive coordinator Del Van Cox took over the team and found instant results, taking the Eagles to the bi-district round of the playoffs with a 7-4 record. With the UIL redistricting in February, Abilene moves out East to play its district games.
This won’t be the first time that Abilene will leave the South Plains to play their district games in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The new district will include teams like Weatherford, Keller Fossil-Ridge, and Fort Worth Haltom. The move takes Abilene away from traditions, like the Crosstown Showdown with Abilene Cooper, the school across the tracks. That game will have to be played in pre-district competition. Rivalries with Odessa Permian and San Angelo Central will be put on hold, with San Angelo Central moving into pre-district along with Cooper and Odessa Permian not facing the Eagles for the time being. According to head coach Del Van Cox, the Eagles were lucky to be able to schedule some of their old rivalries as they head into a new era for the program. According to defensive back Qua’Shawn Washington, the Eagles are just “excited to play the game of football”.
With quarterback Peyton Killam and Tulsa-committed running back Abram Smith returning, 2016 should produce some serious points for the Eagles. According to Killam, the newest version of the Eagles will produce some serious firepower. Killam said, “[The offense will be] definitely a high pace, moving the ball fast down the field. I expect to score hopefully every time we have the ball. We have a bunch of veterans on offense, and we’re ready to get after it.”
The Abilene offense would be one of the best in their region if they only had Killam and Smith, but they’ll have much more than that. Raekwon Millsap will was a name mentioned by both Killam and head coach Del Van Cox when asked about breakout players in 2016. Millsap is a junior who has spent the past two years having solid seasons on the varsity squad, but looks to hit full primetime this year.
Xavier Bradley, who began his freshman year at Abilene High before transferring to Euless Trinity, will return to impact the field at wide receiver for the Eagles. The wideout was also picked by Killam and Cox as a potential breakout player. Bradley is a tall, rangy threat on the outside, something that Abilene hasn’t had since Keevan Lucas and Doug Wilson suited up in the black and gold.
On the defense, the Eagles will boast some serious talent in all areas. Defensive end Coy McMillon is committed to Tulsa, and jack of all trades player Qua’Shawn Washington will play safety and wide receiver this year. According to Cox, Washington is a serious talent who “caught 50 balls last year [while he was] learning a new position”. Washington is no stranger to flexibility, when asked what the most difficult part of his position switch was he responded first with “the conditioning”, followed by “taking in all the plays”.
Senior middle linebacker Dakota Triano will also return to anchor the center of the Eagle’s defense, who look to be one of the most athletic Abilene defenses in recent history. Abilene isn’t lacking in the talent department, it’s the depth department that will cause some concerns for the Eagles. If Abilene can stay healthy, they have the chance to shock quite a few teams.
Coach Cox thinks highly of the Eagle’s chances this year, and so do I. They’re typically a well-disciplined, hard fighting team that’s especially dangerous when they have a few stud athletes on the team. If the Eagles can keep everyone healthy this year, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t make a very deep run in the playoffs.