The Carthage Bulldogs open the 2020 season with the same questions plaguing most of the other programs in Texas:
Will we ever get the season started? And if we do, will we get the entire season in before COVID-19 brings an abrupt ending to the season?
One thing there is no question about, however, is that the Dawgs are ready to shoot for state title No. 8.
The 2019 UIL Class 4A Division I State Champions will take the first step toward reaching that goal on Monday when they open preseason practice.
“There are some different things with the guidelines the UIL put out for us,” said Head Coach Scott Surratt. “Things like social distancing and wearing masks to practice and when we’re not involved in a drill.
“We’re just going to prepare like there won’t be any delay. We just want to get this football team ready to go and win another championship. Everybody has goals — some individual and some team goals. This is where they are one in the same — to help the team win a state championship.”
But the 32 seniors on the roster for their 2019 state championship win over Waco La Vega are gone. That includes their leading receiver on offense as well as their top tacklers on defense.
“We’ve got a lot of wide receivers out and a couple that helped us last year and will again,” Surratt said. “We also have to replace three starters on the offensive line and find a new fullback.
“On defense everything is pretty much wide open. We have Kylon Lister (DL)Austin Morgan (DB) and Kip Lewis (LB) returning.
“We’ve got good candidates to fill in all over. We just have to put the pieces of the puzzle together and see what we can do.”
Kai Horton returns as quarterback after having a strong campaign as the Bulldogs’ starter last year. He completed 253 of 415 passes (61 percent) for 3,746 yards and 49 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
Mason Courtney returns as running back where he rushed for 1,679 yards on 231 carries (7.3 yards per carry) and scored 18 TDs. He also caught 39 passes for 471 yards and five more scores.
Tight end Montrell Smith caught 28 passes for 279 yards and four scores, while grading out at 90 percent with 17 knock downs.
The Bulldogs have a couple of 325-pounders back on the offensive line in Tee Kellum and Karston Williams. Kellum graded out at 94 percent with 47 knockdowns, while Williams had 24 knockdowns and graded out at 90 percent.
Lister had 97 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, three fumble recoveries and an interception. Lewis is returning from an injury that caused him to miss part of the season.
Players Surratt thinks could have a big season include wide receiver Craig McNew and Kavonte Brown-Hoskins.
The coach is counting on a healthy Kip Lewis as well as Nate Marry, whom he calls a “hybrid” who can play outside linebacker, cornerback or safety.
Because of the UIL’s decision to start Class 5A and 6A later than the other classes, the Bulldogs lost their first three games of the season. They ended up finding two other games, but they are both on the road, as is their scrimmage with Liberty-Eylau, and games three and four, meaning they won’t play at home until Oct. 9.
“We’re still looking, but if we play nine, we play nine,” Surratt said. “It will be awhile before we get to play at home. Nobody will come here to play.”
The Bulldogs will practice at 4 p.m. for the first week, inside their multipurpose center.
“We might as well start practicing indoors,” Surratt said. “We want to finish the season playing indoors.”
The Beckville Bearcats also open practice on Monday, but they will go from 7:30 a.m. until noon for the first four days before having “Friday Night Under the Lights” for their fifth practice. The public is invited to attend.