By DARIN ALLRED

Register Sports Editor

The Gainesville Leopards are 3-0 for the first time since 2005. That year, they advanced all the way to the Class 3A Division I state championship game.

While there may not be expectations of this year’s Leopards team winning 14 straight and making it to the championship round, coaches and players are still excited about the fast start, especially after the last three GHS teams have gone a combined 4-26.

“We're excited to be 3-0,” Gainesville head coach Ricky Lock said. “I don't think any of our kids are too surprised about it. A large majority of them have won a lot through the years (at the junior high and subvarsity levels), especially the junior class. We know we have a lot more work to do to correct some things. That's why we watch film and why we practice so we can correct the mistakes we make and become a better ballclub each week.”

This past Friday, the Leopards picked up a 28-7 Homecoming win over Fort Worth Castleberry in front of the largest crowd at Leeper Stadium since 2005.

Not only was it Homecoming, but the school district gave out free tickets to all GISD students.

“It was a huge crowd. Our stands were packed with people standing along the fence line,” Lock said. “I know our kids appreciate it. They have played very hard for various reasons, but one is because of the community and school and I am really appreciative of the crowd. It was very good to see.”

One of the reason’s for Gainesville’s early success has been the play of the defense. Opponents are only averaging 14.6 points per game on the Leopards and the team is allowing only 85.3 yards per game through the air and has nine interceptions.

“I am extremely proud of our defense. We have made huge progress from 2008 to 2009. It has to do with the players and their ability to accept coaching and then going out and performing and getting the job done on the field. I think they have done a really good job of responding,” Lock stated. “Sometimes the offense puts them in a bad place, like the other night we had a fumble at the 20 and that turned into their touchdown. We have shown that we can play good defense. We did it against Ranchview and Decatur, and the other night I think they (Castleberry) had 110 yards of total offense. I'm really excited about our defense and the good news is nine of them are underclassmen so they will be around for a couple of years. Our linebackers are making tackles, our defensive front is really playing great technique and we cover people. We've had a lot of turnovers in the secondary. We're pleased but we know we have a lot of room for improvement.”

The Leopards, like other teams around North Texas, are preparing for games this week in less than ideal weather conditions. While Gainesville was spared of the rain last Friday night, more than six inches of rain fell Saturday through Monday with more blowing in Wednesday.

The team has been slopping through the mud on the practice field this week and could have to play on a sloppy field Friday. But it’s a problem they won’t have to face much of after this season since the district is building a new stadium on campus that will include field turf. In fact, the team should be able to start practicing on the new turf in two weeks, but Lock wishes he had it this week.

“It would be nice. It got sloppy Tuesday,” he said. “It would be a great time to have turf with all of this rain. It would solve a lot of problems. They are supposed to lay it down not this Friday but next Friday. So the day of the Hirschi game is the day they are supposed to lay the turf down. We should get to practice on it during our open week and we're real excited about that opportunity.”

The Leopards will look to go 4-0 when they host the Burkburnett Bulldogs Friday. Burk manhandled the Leopards 51-0 last year, but the Bulldogs lost a lot of key players and will be a different looking team this season.

“Burkburnett is an option football team. Their quarterback likes to keep the ball,” Lock said. “They do it with a Wing-T concept which means they also run the buck sweep and the trap. It's an odd combination of what they do, but they do it well. Their offensive line is very steady. Their skill kids are good and consistent. Last year they had some phenomenal skill kids, but they graduated the two running backs and the quarterback. So they are a little different in that they have to march down the field now. They used to get a lot of big plays. Now they have to be methodical and put drives together. They have the ability to do that.

“On defense, they have probably one of the best nose guards in 3A football, the coach added,” He (Lorenzo Barnes) is about 320 and he squatted 800 lbs., at the state powerlifting meet last year. It is tough to block him. You have to commit two to him most of the time and then you don't always move him. They have a pretty good linebacker inside and they play sound, fundamental defense. They run a 3-4 defense and they are very comparable to Ranchview on defense. I don't know if their secondary is as good as Ranchview, but their front seven is.”

Kickoff for Friday’s game is set for 7:30 p.m., at Leeper Stadium.

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