By Bill Spinks
The topsy-turvy year of 2020 is being looked at by Midlothian Heritage as old news. The Jaguars already experienced the craziness a year before.
The Jags last year went through a complete cycle of extremes. They suffered through their worst non-district record in their short history, then forfeited a district title-clinching victory to Crandall because of the use of an ineligible player.
However, the Jags overcame all of that and advanced one round farther then they had ever gone in the football playoffs.
The Jags fell to eventual state champion Carthage in the 4A Division I state quarterfinals, 24-7. Carthage, which dropped to Division II in this year’s realignment, went on to beat Waco La Vega in the D-I state final, 42-28, for its seventh state championship, just two off the state mark that was set by Aledo last December.
Funny enough, La Vega is now in Heritage’s district. The new District 5-4A (Division I) is stacked with defending state runner-up La Vega, up-and-coming Alvarado, Ellis County rival Life Waxahachie, and historic traditional powers Brownwood and Stephenville.
"It’s a great district," HHS head coach Lee Wiginton said. "Just think, the history of Texas high school football doesn’t get better than that. You’re thinking about three programs who have won multiple state championships, La Vega, Stephenville and Brownwood. That’s very exciting. We know all about Alvarado and Life. It’s a really good lineup, week in and week out."
The Jags hope to be equal to the task. Wiginton welcomes back 13 total combined returning starters from last season’s history-making squad.
"We have a lot of kids who started for us for a year or two and a lot of guys who might have not been starters but played a lot of valuable minutes," Wiginton said. "We also have a lot of young guys coming in who’ve shown us some good things and have a chance to contribute this year."
Daelin Rader, a senior, takes over at quarterback for the graduated Cade Sumbler. Rader started at wide receiver last year but did take a few snaps, completing 7 of 11 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Seniors Latray Miller and Cullen Stone return at running back in HHS’ backfield-by-committee setup. Miller was the team’s leading yardage-gainer in 2019 with 819 yards and scored seven touchdowns, while Stone led the team with 12 rushing TDs and added 771 yards.
The receiving corps will be missing super standout Jay Wilkerson, who graduated and signed with Washington State after catching 66 passes for 1,226 yards and 15 TDs last fall. But senior Haydon Wiginton, who has received an offer from Southwestern Assemblies of God University, is a returning starter who caught 50 passes for just shy of 700 yards and scored six times. Carter Wilkerson, also a senior, moves over from defense and will line up at receiver.
Three starters return on the offensive line — Carson Walker, Nathan Stephens and Coby James. Walker has already verbally committed to the University of Houston, and James has received college offers as well.
On defense, Travis Buckley, Scott Ellis and Ben Eskins return up front, and will be joined by newcomer sophomores Damian Alexander and Sir Luke Tante. Senior Noah Gray is back at linebacker and Derwin Sneed, who started in multiple secondary spots last year, is moving to outside linebacker. Junior Greg Johnson returns at safety, where he’ll be joined by another promising sophomore, Kaden Brown.
Junior Calvin Duggins returns at punter and will take over placekicking duties full-time this fall, and Haydon Wiginton returns for his third season as the Jags’ deep snapper.
The COVID-19 pandemic and surrounding counties’ reactions to it has affected area schools’ schedules, and HHS is no exception. The UIL’s decision to stagger the start of big-school and small-school seasons also scotched the Jags’ opener against Class 5A Everman, who won’t even start practicing until Sept. 7. The Jags also dropped contests against Kennedale and Wilmer-Hutchins.
However, it didn’t take long to fill those vacancies. The Jags will open the season on Friday at MISD Multipurpose Stadium against Wichita Falls Hirschi and will follow next Friday, Sept. 4, with a home game against Lindale. On Sept. 18, the Jags will host Paris.
Existing games at Decatur on Sept. 11 and at Springtown on Sept. 25 will remain on the schedule. The Jags’ district slate remains unchanged, opening at home against Brownwood on Oct. 9.
Heritage will take a district-wide bye week on Oct. 2 before hosting Brownwood on Oct. 9 at MISD Multipurpose Stadium to open district action. The following week, the Jags will visit Life Waxahachie.