When the final whistle sounded Friday night and the huddle broke, the 2019 season officially arrived for the Longview Lobos.

The dress rehearsal is over.

For the first time in 81 years, the Lobos hit the field as defending state champions and the road ahead will be a test.

“Now it’s for real,” Longview head coach John King said. “We’re getting ready to face a tough four-game stretch but you want that and playing in District 11-6A, you’ll need that to get prepared.

“Our deal is to have a lot better product on the field when we finish these four games than the way we started and I think we can do that.”

That road begins in the not-so-friendly confines of Abe Martin Stadium with a date with Lufkin on Friday. It continues at home against Marshall — the only game in a month span at Lobo Stadium before a nationally-televised showdown with John Tyler. It will conclude across state lines against West Monroe, a state runner up in Louisiana a year ago.

“Non-district is going to be very tough and, of course, we want to win every game that we play, let’s not make any mistake about that,” King said. “A realistic goal is to find a way to have a winning record after four weeks of non-district play, which is an attainable goal and if we can do that, I think we’ll have a pretty good football team.”

Both star power and role players were a void to be field for the Lobos this offseason and preseason, starting in spring practice and concluding with Friday night’s scrimmage against Texas High. There were the expected bumps and mistakes a long the way but, overall, King said the preparation and improvement has been steady.

“I think we’ve improved since we started building this football team in the spring,” King said. “What we’ve done over the past two weeks has added to that.

“We’re still a work in progress. We’ve got some inexperience and some newcomers to the Friday night lights so that is to be expected. I do feel like we can be a good football team if we continue to make strides in the right direction, cut down on making the same mistakes and continue to play team football.”

Longview’s defense capped a solid preseason with a strong showing in Friday night’s scrimmage. The Lobos will look to that side of the ball as the offense continues to find its footing.

“Defensively, I think our line has been pretty good and we’ve got to continue to find depth there,” King said. “Tyshawn (Taylor) has been excellent at linebacker and the secondary has done some good things as well. Some guys have grown up and competed there. That’s been nice to see.

“They’re going to have to be strong for us. It’s going to take a little bit to get every aspect synced up on offense, as is the usual, but we’ve got to go play good defense.”

Offensively, the bright spots have been there, King said. Up front remains the biggest area of focus again, as per the usual.

“There have been goof things all over the place,” King said. “On the line, Parker (Cox) is playing like the three-year starter he is and is doing a good job bringing the rest along. I’ve been pleased with the play of Tim Polk, who didn’t get a whole lot of playing time last year but has had a good spring and fall. Jhailon Braden (tight end) is another one.

“Some of our younger receivers have started to come along as have Jaharious Jones and Markveion Haynes in the backfield.”

In the kicking game, King has confidence in all three that the Lobos rolled out on Friday in Antonio Onofre, Spencer Powell and Raul Torrez.

“We got three pretty good kickers,” he said. “We did a good job settling on the other spots and will evaluate the kicker throughout the week but I feel confident in all of them.

“One of them has a stronger leg than others, one is a little more accurate but they all bring something good to the table.”

With the new title of state champions, the expectations are magnified for the Lobos and the pressure is there. That’s an area King is anxious to see.

“The kids have been great as far as far as their attitude, work ethic and the effort we’ve received in practice,” King said. “I’m anxious to see how we do in a game situation where things don’t go our way. I think it’s easy to talk and fly around when things are going in the right direction than it is when things are going against you. That’s going to be the key.

“Are we going to be front-runners or are we going to be a team that doesn’t like to lose? We’ve got to do something about it when things are going sideways in a game or even in practice. We’ve got to pull together and have that mindset where it doesn’t matter who is was that had to get it corrected. We’ll see who those guys are. We don’t want to be impostors, we want to be a good football team and that takes whoever is on the field to go out and get that done.”

Practice and the internal competition continues on Monday, this time with an opponent and task at hand as the role of defending champions gets rolling.

“It needs to be a focused week of everyone showing up ready to work and get after it,” King said. “This is a game week and we’re going to start installing a game plan while continuing to work on ourselves. It’s about learning, growing, improving and paying attention to every little detail.

“It’s real.”

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin.

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