Navasota’s record in 2016 probably looks like a typo to people who didn’t pay attention to the Rattlers last season. The 2-9 mark most likely had people scratching their heads wondering what the heck was going wrong in the Blues Capital of Texas.
In all fairness, it was almost like a total rebuilding process last year with an entirely new coaching staff and the replacement of multiple all-state players from the previous two-year run. Throw in the toughest non-district schedule the Rattlers have faced in quite some time and a much tougher district, then Navasota took some lumps.
The season started with a 38-22 loss to 3A Franklin, who made a two-point lead in the fourth quarter into a big-time win. Navasota lost its second game to 5A Magnolia West, 23-22, on a late-game field goal. Despite five turnovers those first two games, both were winnable.
Navasota played its next few games without its starting running back and lost to 5A Waller, 4A power Stafford and 5A Bryan to start 0-5. The Rattlers earned its first win in the district opener over Huffman Hargrave and then fell to Silsbee. They took down Cleveland and ended the season with losses to Bridge City and Little Cypress-Mauriceville.
Despite a 2-8 record, the Rattlers grabbed the fourth playoff spot and took on Kilgore, which took down Navasota, 29-13.
Coach Patrick Goodman has held the reins for more than a year now, and he’s had a full year to work with the athletes. He’s had more turnover in the coaching staff this offseason, even having to replace the offensive and defensive coordinators. But this is Navasota, where athletes grow on trees.
Navasota made it to the state semifinals in this summer’s 7-on-7 tournament. The last time they lost in those semifinals was in 2012, right before the Rattlers won their first state championship. Will that happen again? Probably not this fall. Will they be back in the playoffs? Well, win two district games and they’re most likely in.
RB Keyondrick Philio, DE Jabril Hunter, LB Brandun Ramos
Philio was a main cog in the offense before missing four games last season with an eye injury. He was an all-district running back the previous season. Hunter was the only remaining starter from the 2014 state championship team and Ramos was the quarterback of the defense.
QB Jeb Malek, WR Ronnie Jackson, OT/DL Jordan Jefferson
Malek literally had to learn on the fly in 2016, and the game should slow down for him this season as he’s got a year of starting under his belt. Malek’s top weapon will be Jackson, who’s played in the shadows of all-state receivers in the past. Jackson was a state track qualifier in his sophomore and junior years, and he’s got speed to get to the end zone.
Jefferson will only be a sophomore, but he’s already made a verbal commitment to an offer from Texas A&M’s 2020 class. He’ll protect Malek’s blind side at left tackle. Jefferson will be joined on the defensive line by Tyrek Houston and Jaycob Steels, and Tyrin Preston and Lawson Hughlett will both play linebacker and wide receiver.
Of all the distraught from last season, it’s the players in Navasota who want to prove 2016 was merely a coincidental year of bad luck. They’ll have to prove their grit rather quickly as they open with three of their first four games on the road (at Franklin, at Magnolia West, vs. Waller, at Stafford) before getting Ross Rogers’ Bryan Vikings at home.
The Rattlers only have one extremely long road trip in district (Little Cypress) and get Silsbee and Bridge City at home. Huffman and Cleveland are winnable road games.
The faces and names of the coaching staff may have changed, but the faces on the field remain the same. The Rattlers need to do two things on offense to be successful — protect Malek in the pocket and cut down on turnovers. Those two things plagued Navasota in 2016.
With some seasoned defensive players returning, an offense that should be better and a tough schedule in tow, if Navasota can weather the regular-season storm then Rattler Nation could take their big blue train into late November.
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