Register Sports Editor

The Gainesville Leopards made it through the non-district portion of their schedule with a 4-1 record. Now, the important games start.

As impressive as the 4-1 record is for the Leopards after a total of four wins in the previous three years, the team is more concerned about the next five games since they will determine the team’s playoff fate.

District 9-3A play starts Friday with Gainesville hosting Whitesboro at Leeper Stadium.

This past week, the Leopards and most of the rest of the district enjoyed a bye week. Gainesville head coach Ricky Lock said his team focused on special teams play during the off week.

“There are some things we needed to work on in the kicking game and I think we corrected it,” he said. “We changed some personnel around on our kicking team, which got better in the last game. That was something we felt like we needed to focus on.”

Another area of concern this past week was eligibility, since the six-weeks grading period ended last Friday. Lock said the Leopards only lost one player to no-pass, no-play and he wasn’t a starter.

Through five games, Lock says there have been some pleasant surprises on his team.

“There’s a couple of players that have really stepped up,” the coach said. “Calvin Calhoun is one that has come through. There are some guys on the offensive line as well. Our line has gotten better each week. There were a lot of question marks when we started the season. Merlin Davis has been real good up to this point. Our linebacker play has been real good up to this point. Kielyn Lewis and Deshawn Franklin have been pretty consistent this year. Franklin has become a workhorse for us. Harold Wills has made some really big plays for us and we just seem to be improving weekly.”

The Leopards won their first three games of the season before falling to Burkburnett. Gainesville ended non-district with a win at Wichita Falls Hirschi before the bye week. Now the team hopes they can continue the roll they were on before taking a week off.

“There are good things about a week off and there are bad things about a week off,” Coach Lock said. “The bad thing is you haven’t played in two weeks and you don’t want to come out rusty. We were executing fairly well and you just hope you stay on course. It’s always a big worry when you take a week off.”

Through the first half of the season, District 9-3A looks like it will be just as tough as it has been in recent years. With defending Class 3A Division I state champion Prosper in the district, along with 3A Division II runner-up Celina, Lock says the district will be strong again.

“Argyle is better than what I thought they would be,” the coach added. “Prosper defensively is what I thought they would be. They had eight starters come back from a state championship team. They are really good on defense and they changed their offensive philosophy. They lost their quarterback from last year and he was a workhorse who carried a big load. They’ve gone more to a spread look. Celina has played pretty good defense. Offensively, they lost their two running backs they’ve had for three years, so they have some young kids that are having to carry the load. They have tradition and seem to reload every year. There are some big district games this week. Every district game is big, but Argyle and Prosper are both 5-0 and get after each other this week.”

The other 9-3A game this week features Celina taking on Sanger.

But for Gainesville, their focus is on the Whitesboro Bearcats. Last season, Whitesboro defeated Gainesville 15-13. It was the first time in history that the Leopards had lost to the Bearcats in football. So will that be motivation for the GHS players?

“For the kids that were out there, yeah,” Lock said. “The majority of these kids were on the JV last year and beat Whitesboro pretty bad. But for the eight guys that played on that (varsity) team, I'm sure there is. Anything can happen on any give night so you have to execute and give everything you have every Friday night because you never know what is going to happen.”

Whitesboro is 2-3 heading into district play. They have wins over Pottsboro (34-10) and Bonham (15-7) and losses to Pilot Point (34-0), Cisco (34-13) and Aubrey (28-0).

Lock says Coach Eddie Gill’s Bearcats will be a good test for his team to start 9-3A play.

“Coach Gill's son (Jordan) is the quarterback and they have a decent running back in (Jerrid) Caffey,” Lock said. “Their offensive line is really fundamentally sound. They run a little bit of everything. It’s different than last year when it all revolved around (Travis) Labhart, but he graduated. Now they tend to put the ball in Gill’s hands and Caffey’s hands. They throw it a little bit, but they are primarily a running team. They count on their offensive line to move some people around. Defensively, they use quickness. They are not big up front, but they are very quick. They run a 3-4 and I think they run to the ball well. He (Coach Gill) doesn't have many, but the ones he has play extremely hard for him. He gets the most out of his young men so we know we have our hands full.”

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

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