Editor’s Note: The “In Case You Missed It” feature will publish each Monday during the high school football regular season, taking a closer look at a significant element from the previous weekend’s action.
There was never a question about work ethic or effort, according to Kyle Little when he took over at Harleton this past spring.
The Wildcats had just struggled through their second straight 1-9 season on the gridiron. Terry Ward left after four years to take the reins at Grapeland.
Normally, taking over a program that’s lost 18 of its last 20 games leaves the new incoming coach lots of rebuilding and culture change.
Not so when Little accepted the position after working the last two years as offensive coordinator at Hallsville.
“In all reality Coach Ward didn’t leave this place in bad shape. These kids knew how to work and they’d work their guts out,” Little said. “I knew right there we had a chance to do something. Because if you show up and go to work everyday, you’ve got a chance to win.”
Win is exactly what Harleton has done the first two weeks of the 2019 season. Friday night, the Wildcats routed James Bowie 40-8, following a thrilling 46-40 overtime win against Queen City to open the season.
Having already equaled the last two seasons win output in just two weeks has rejuvenated this small East Texas community. But Little, who earned a state championship ring as an assistant at Mineola in 2015, is quick to temper those emotions. He realizes there’s a lot of football left to be played.
“We’ve played really good team football. The thing I love about small school football is these kids have grown up together and love one another,” Little said. “The guys go out there and fight for each other. Our offense has done well and put up some points. The defense is flying to the football.”
Little’s most significant alteration upon his arrival was changing the offense from the popular spread look to the Wing-T attack.
“We wanted to get them in the right system so they could be successful. I came in and looked around the locker room and saw a bunch of kids that looked like running backs and linebackers,” explained Little. “Our whole team looks like running backs and linebackers. So I guess we’re gonna be in a run-based offense.”
The results are evident. Harleton scored 72 points last season in 10 games and already has 86 points in its first two wins this year.
A committed focus to special teams has also paid dividends for the Wildcats thus far.
“At Hallsville we practiced the heck out of special teams. I tell the kids all the time that it may not win you a game, but can dang sure lose you a game,” said Little. “We try to practice special teams a lot. We had a kick return for a touchdown last week and we had an extra point block ran back for two. That’s a big deal.”
In Friday’s victory over James Bowie, the Wildcat special teams parlayed a blocked punt into a touchdown and later stole a possession with a successfully-executed onside kick recovery.
“We’ve been able to do some things in special teams that’s come through big for us,” Little said.
But it’s not so much how you start, as it is how you finish. Little knows that as his Wildcats seek their first playoff appearance in four years.
“I tell them to ignore the noise. We know what’s going on here in the locker room. Ignore the noise. Right now we’re 2-0 and everybody’s patting them on the back telling how great they are,” Little explains. “Ignore it. We know we’ve got some work to do. We’ve got Sabine this week and Coach (Rex) Sharp has those guys rolling. They’re loaded.”
While it’s great to be 2-0 and have the fans all excited, Little said one glimpse of game film and he can write up a laundry a list of work still to be done.
Ignore the noise.