HOWE- The game will be some tough Texas football for the opponents of the Howe High School Bulldogs as they charge into the 2017 season. Howe will return 15 lettermen on their own territory at Bulldog Stadium for a non-conference game against Gunter at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Howe Head Football Coach Zack Hudson will be leading the charge for the fifth time as the team works toward their goal of a fourth appearance in the 3A-1 Region II District 5 playoffs.

“We made it to the area round, the third round [and] placed second in district,” Hudson said.

The Bulldogs enjoyed a successful end to the 2016 season, advancing to the area round of the playoffs after facing many rival teams in the first season of a more difficult division. This year Howe and the football coaching staff has their collective sights set on bringing home no less than a district title at the end of the 2017 season.

“It’s more challenging because it is probably one of the hardest districts in the state,” Hudson said. He added that the challenges The Bulldogs face in the rest of the teams in the district can seem as though they increase significantly “week after week.” Howe adapted well to the new division and enjoyed advancing in the postseason after taking on teams experienced in upper division competition.

“We got second last year, so I don’t complain too much, but it is a very competitive district,” said Hudson. “You better show up every Friday.”

After taking on Gunter, the bulldogs will travel to play against Bowie on September 8.

Hudson looks forward to seeing the team take on district rivals both new and old. Van Alstyne has been a long-running friendly rivalry that was reignited when the Bulldogs joined the Panthers when Howe moved up a division for the 2016 season. Pottsboro has become a rising team in district competition over the past couple of seasons, something that the Bulldogs have taken notice of, stoking the flames of the rivalry between many players that know and enjoy competing against one another.

“Van Alstyne has always been a big rival for us,” Hudson said.“We [also] play Gunter right off the bat, so that will be exciting.”

Howe will begin the much anticipated district competition in the second half of the season when they take on Pottsboro on October 13.

“We have got to get better every week,” Hudson said, “that’s our biggest deal.”

The team will compete for the old Silver Spike trophy that has become a traveling trophy symbolizing the rivalry of the two cities connected by the railroad.

The Bulldogs will start the season with a chance to take on playoff rivals Gunter and other district opponents from the most important games for Howe in the season during the 2016 district playoffs.

“It would be nice to start off with at least one win out of those two [first games of the season],” Hudson said, adding that the team has exceeded expectations in the preseason.

“We will still be a heavy run game.” Hudson said of the Bulldogs’ offensive approach.

Bulldog running backs Andrew Griffin and Dylan Moreau are among the players to watch, as they both bring three years of playoff experience into their senior season with the Bulldogs. Howe football fans will also be watching junior running back Mason Riggs barreling through opposition defense towards the end zone. The team may have welcomed back 15 lettermen and five starters each on the Bulldog offense and defense, but there were still be plenty of cleats to fill for the Howe High School Football program going into the 2017 season.

“A lot of new guys [are] in a lot of new positions. We graduated 17 seniors.” Hudson said.

The team has welcomed a few new additions and one young Bulldog has earned an opportunity to be among the few members of the 2017 freshmen class playing in 3A-1 Region II District 5 competition. The beginning of the 2017 football season is special to the Howe High School Football program for many reasons, but it is a particularly special occasion for Bulldog Varsity quarterback Cirby Coheley. Coheley, the only freshman on the team, will be playing his first game of Texas high school football when Howe hosts Gunter on September 8.

“Our strength is our size up front. We are a little bit bigger than we have been in the past,” said Hudson of the stopping power of Howe’s starting offensive and defensive lines.

“You never know if it is your last game,”said Hudson. “We represent an entire town, not just each other. There is expectations now with us being in the playoffs so far last year so we have to step up and meet those expectations.”

The Bulldogs may have graduated a number of experienced players, but Hudson has balanced the returning lettermen with a few fresh faces. Overall the Howe Bulldogs go into the 2017 season as a young team of rough and tumble Texas football players ready to sink their teeth into the game.

“They have to get some more experience and more playing time,” Hudson said of the one drawback which accompanies a young team. He added that the Bulldogs have a philosophy of improving and learning based upon the team’s successes and failures from one game to the next, and the players strive to improve with each game performance.

“[W]e take away from any game,” Hudson said. “[We] see what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are and see who is better at what.”

The Howe football coaching staff understands that a young team will learn many lessons on the field and will experience the mistakes necessary to improve, according to Hudson.

“It’s the first game of the season so there is going to be some mistakes made,” Hudson said. “I think the key is playing together and trusting each other and playing hard. We kind of set a standard for ourselves and playing a rough game, hard hitting.”

The 2017 Bulldog offense will be led by quarterback Coheley, with kicker Brice Honaker, running backs Cameron Blesi, Austin Lee, Peyton Reagan, Arturo Lowder, Caiden Harmon, Deon Allen, Devin Porter, Griffin, Riggs, and Moreau. The Howe offense wide receivers will be Winston Mosse, Hunter Cheatham, and Chase Barnett. The offensive line is made up of some big Bulldogs, with senior guards Mikey Hymel and Chase Harvey, senior Connor Jackson, junior tackle Jacob Howell, junior guards Chris Garrison and Cameron Garner, Clay Marshall at center, and tight ends Ty Harvey and Jarrod Ing.

The bulldog defense will be composed of middle line backers Deon Allen, Griffin, Harvey, and Lee, strong safety players Carson Grogan, Winston Mosse, and Riggs. Outside line backers for the Bulldogs will be Moreau and Garner. Cornerbacks for the Bulldog defense will be Cheatham, Reagan, and Barnett with Blesi on defensive end. Caiden Harmon, Lowder, and Harvey will be the free safety players for the Bulldog defense. Defensive tackles for the Bulldogs will be Jackson, Marshall, Howell, and Porter, with nose guards Hymel, Garrison, and Ing.

“I think they did a lot better than they expected,” Hudson said of the scrimmage games.

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