Prior to the season, most high school football teams enjoy a sense of hope.
That’s no doubt the case for the Houston Tigers, who begin the 2022 season this week. Led by head coach Eric Sloan, who’s in his eighth season leading the program, the Football Tigers’ schedule starts with a somewhat odd stretch of three consecutive roads games.
Not that playing away three straight times is all that strange, but the length of a couple of the road trips is. Houston kicks things off this Friday by trekking almost 160 miles to St. Charles to face Orchard Farm. As if that wasn’t a long enough distance for buses full of players and coaches to roll, the Tigers will ramble more than 170 miles to Fayette in Week 2.
Those two expeditions will make the Week 3 trip to Salem seem like a short jaunt.
Then in Week 4, Houston finally gets to play in front of the home crowd as Cabool comes to town for the annual Battle of Texas County. That figures to be one heck of a night in Tiger Stadium, as the yearly bash-fest between the Big Red and Big Blue (which will probably be another barn-burner) will be accompanied by the Tiger Pride Marching Band performing its new halftime show for the first time and the crowning of a new HHS Homecoming Queen.
The Tigers started strong last year and sported a 2-1 record after a home win over Salem that put an end to an inexplicable 40-game losing streak to the Dent County Tigers. But after that, Houston failed to add another W on the way to finishing 2-7 (with a game at Mountain Grove being cancelled).
In their defense, the Tigers gave multiple teams all they could handle and even had a golden opportunity to win a postseason game for the first time in a long time.
To quickly recap that epic district playoff contest, seventh-seeded Houston faced No. 2 Forsyth in the Class 2 District 3 Tournament, and the Tigers and host Panthers traded blows for four quarters before going into overtime to decide the outcome. The teams literally took turns scoring throughout the contest (with the Tigers leading five times and the Panthers pulling even each time) and ended up in a 34-all tie at the end of regulation time.
But after Forsyth scored to open the extra session, Houston was stopped on a fourth-and-one play at the goal line.
“We were playing our best football in week 10,” Sloan said. “We were firing on all cylinders, but ultimately it was about being about two or three feet short.”
So what about the upcoming season?
I’d like to think Sloan & Company can get over the .500 hump for the first time in his tenure, and I believe they can if a select few things go just right.
•Good health is crucial.
Last year’s struggles can be blamed in large part on all-too-frequent visits by the injury bug.
With adequate depth, injuries simply mean the next guy steps in and picks up where his teammate left off. But teams at small schools like Houston don’t always enjoy the luxury of having a seasoned upperclassman waiting in the wings, so to speak.
That’s the story for the 2022 Football Tigers. As Sloan likes to say, beyond the handful of tried-and-true players who can be relied upon, the team “gets young in a hurry.”
Translation: If the injury bug bites, inexperienced kids who realistically need more time in a JV environment are forced to take the field with the big boys. Obviously, that’s not usually good.
The bottom line is, the Tigers have plenty of capable first-string players, but they need to be on the field for the team to achieve any form of significant success.
Second to avoiding the injury bug is that football fundamental of execution.
It sounds simple; guys need to execute their blocks, tackle opposing ball carriers, catch balls thrown to them and hold onto the ball when they have it. And everyone needs to avoid making an official throw his flag.
But no team can expect success by doing those things once in a while. They all must be habitual.
For a team to turn hope into positive results, there must be some positive contributions from unexpected sources.
From what I’ve seen, the Tigers have some athletic young guys who might just be those sources.
•Beat the odds.
Good teams will almost always beat opponents they’re supposed to beat, but they’ll also win when they’re “not supposed to win.”
A quick look at Houston’s 2022 schedule reveals several opportunities for the Tigers to do just that.
Anyway, while health is probably the primary factor, several other on-field elements must mesh in a favorable way if the HHS football team is going to be successful in 2022. And while the Tigers won’t be bigger, stronger or faster than some of their opponents, I feel like they could well have the pieces to make that happen.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.