ATLANTA, Texas – Atlanta is facing a totally different challenge in 2018 after the University Interscholastic League’s realignment has the Rabbits at the top of Class 3A, instead of the bottom of 4A.
The change has Cass County thinking state championship, but there’s other factors to consider first.
“We’re kind of glad to be where we need to be,” Atlanta coach Matt McClure said. “In my seven years here we’ve been playing schools with 300-400 more students than us. We’ve been doing a good job, but now we’re at the top numbers wise. Obviously, there are some high expectations. the thing is, people just expect you to win when you drop down, but that’s not always the case.”
In this case, there’s good reason to be optimistic about Atlanta’s prospects this fall. The Rabbits return nine offensive starters, and four defensive starters. The Rabbits had one of the most explosive offenses a year ago. McClure is excited and confident his club will continue to pile up a lot of yards and score a lot of points in 3A.
“There’s a lot of good schools in 3A; there’s a lot of good tradition in our new district with Hooks, Hughes Springs, Jefferson, Mount Vernon, New Boston and Redwater,” McClure said. “This district is coming full-circle for me personally. Most of these schools were in Atlanta’s district when I played here.”
McClure’s squad should be battle-tested before league play begins. The Rabbits will play Gilmer, Pleasant Grove, Liberty-Eylau and Gladewater in pre-district.
The difference for Atlanta will be the style of play it will face in 3A. Most 4A schools spread it out and throw a lot, according to McClure. At least four of the teams the Rabbits will face in District 7-3A operate from the slot-t, or slot-wing.
Atlanta staff pleased with team’s summer work
The Rabbits’ coaching staff has been pleased with the players hard work during the summer months.
“Our goal is to have a good day every day, and to not look ahead,” McClure said. “We have quite a few skill players back and only one ball. We’ve got to do a good job of making these young men play as a team.”
Injuries are always a factor in high school football, and Atlanta has only nine seniors this season. Still, McClure boasts the quality of his small classes are good.
The ringleaders for Atlanta’s high-octane offense are quarterback Andrew Samples, running back Jawan King and wide receiver Kade Wood.
Samples passed for 1,644 yards and 16 touchdowns, while running for 693 yards and 14 TDs. King (5-11, 215) is arguably one of the best backs in East Texas. He ran for 1,189 yards and 11 TDs last season, while catching 17 passes for 316 yards and 5 TDs. Wood was the team’s leading receiver with 36 receptions for 370 yards and 2 TDs.
Atlanta also features big, strong, quick linemen. Josh Wiley, Jared Cowgill, Shun Hunter and Cade Fant head this group.
Several players will see action on both sides of the ball, nothing unusual for the Rabbits. The difference being that almost every team in 3A has to do the same.