The Jacksonville Fightin' Indian football team have already started to work on preparing for the 2014 season as the team has been active in off-season work for several weeks now.
We caught up with Tribe athletic director and head football coach Chris Taber this week to check on the progress of the Indians and to get get Taber's thoughts on the JHS athletic program in general.
Taber said that the attitudes are good and that he has been pleased with the effort that he has seen from his players as they work in the off season.
Despite the Indians going 0-10 last year, the focus has been placed on the future and in improving.
Taber, who will starting his third season in Jacksonville next year, said that there are several encouraging factors that should enable the Tribe to get back on track in 2014.
Jacksonville Daily Progress: For several reasons the participation numbers were unusually low last year which seem to contribute to the Indians' slide. How important is it to be able to beef up the ranks for Jacksonville to be successful in football.
Chris Taber: I think in any program the more kids that you have participate, the more kids you have to choose from. In football, particularly with the injuries, you have to have depth and lack of depth hurt us some last season. Participation is one of our biggest challenges right now. We've got to get some of the kids out of the hallways and into athletics. Not just in football, but in all of our athletics.
JDP: Are you hopeful that the numbers will be greater in 2014?
CT: Yes. In our middle school program we are up in total athletics about 250 kids, so it's starting to happen. Anytime you take over a program and start to install your schemes and processes it takes time. It's not a one or two year process.We saw success in our eighth-grade group this past season and they did well in district play and those kids will be our freshmen next year; so I think we're starting to see some change. Kids will be coming up to the high school programs that have had success in middle school.
JDP: What is the biggest thing that is not happening athletically when you compare Jacksonville to say, Whitehouse or Lindale.
CT: I think that for the most part across the board that our sports teams have been stagnate for the past five or six years, with the exception of basketball. I think that what is really lacking when you compare us to some of the other schools in East Texas is that for the most part our summer participation is lacking. Kids at the Whitehouses, the Longviews or the Hallsvilles are active in the summer athletics. They are playing select ball, or they are taking part in other activities that help them develop and stay sharp in their sport. You can't play (a sport) for three or four months out of the year and then turnaround and not play it again until year. The kids have to stay active in the sports that they play in, in order to be able to play at a high level. We've got to get our kids into programs to where they con compete all-year long, so when its time to compete on their high school teams they are ready.
JDP: Let's get back to football. Can you give us a look at the numbers that are in the program now?
CT: We have 50 boys that are in our freshman (football) program now and we have 52 that are in what will be nest year's varsity and that's a lot more than we had this time last year. With the size of the eighth-grade class that we have coming up, I can see us having right around 150 kids in the football program in August. If we can maintain those kind of numbers, it will give us the stability that we have not had around here the last two years.
JDP: Seems like the large group of incoming freshmen will be like a shot in the arm to the Jacksonville football program?
CT: I think with this (incoming) freshman group you will see that we want have to tap into them (for varsity service) like we had to do this year. We will be able to keep them playing together and let them experience success together and to get better physically and mentally before they move up to junior varsity and varsity.
JDP: What type of feedback have you been receiving from the community since the end of last season?
CT: Our community has been supportive and they under stand the process. We have some seasoned fans when it comes to the game of football; they're not dumb. They can tell when we're talented and when we are on the short end of the stick like we were this past season.
JDP: Have any changes been made to the off-season football workout program?
CT: We've mixed things up with our weight program to where we can work some football things in there. We've been spending sometime working on special teams and on technique, some of things that it is hard to squeeze in each day of practice due to the time limits. Also, with our conditioning, for example, we're doing it in such a way that we can teach football at the same time as the conditioning is going on.
JDP: Have have the Indians reacted to these changes?
CT: The kids have been great. They have been so responsive. We are starting to see some kids come out of their shells. You are always going to have guys like Carter McCown, Braylon Parish and Franklin Torres leading. I think we are starting to see some other leaders emerge and that is what this program desperately needs and that has been a very good blessing for us during these first-four weeks of off season.
JDP: Was it difficult to get the kids focused on the off-season program, coming off of such a disappointing season?
CT: Our kids' attitudes have been good and their work ethic has been good, too. We understood what we were up against last year and its like we tell the kids; sometimes you have to go through some valleys before you can get to the mountain top and you are always going to have lows before you have highs. Our kids understand that and understand that getting better is a process.
JDP: Will there be any changes on the football coaching staff for next season?
CT: Right now no one has officially come to me and said that they will be leaving. I think you generally lose one or two coaches a year who get an opportunity to move closer to home or get a promotion and that sort of thing. I anticipate that happening here, but at this time no one has come up to me and mentioned anything about not returning.
JDP: You are one of the few head coaches at the (Class) 4A and 5A level that still calls the plays on Friday night. Have you given any thought to turning play calling over to an offensive coordinator?
CT: I've been calling the plays since I first started as a coordinator in New Braunfels nine years ago. I understand what I want to call and what I want to do. I don't plan on changing anything right now. Maybe when I get up there in age I will try to find someone else to take over the play calling. Frankly, I don't know what I would do with myself on the sidelines if I wasn't calling the plays.