El Campo becomes big birds with move to Class 3A
EL CAMPO - El Campo is fixing to find out if size really does matter.
After years of competing as one of the smallest Class 4A schools in the state, El Campo was reclassified as a Class 3A school by the University Interscholastic League in February.
The excitement created by the reclassification was evident as El Campo went through preseason practices at Ricebird Stadium.
"We have new uniforms, a new scoreboard, everything," said senior Cole Hunt. "The coaches are real enthused. We're all pumped up. I was talking to a player who graduated a couple of years ago. He was like, 'Ya'll better make it all the way.' I was like, 'Oh yeah, definitely.' You can tell everybody is excited about the season."
El Campo coach Bob Gillis understands the high expectations in the community, but he also understands the challenge facing the Ricebirds.
"That's the nature of the beast," he said. "There's really, really good football teams in 3A. We just need to do what we do and not worry about all this other stuff and let everybody talk like they're supposed to talk and we'll take care of our stuff."
Gillis wants his players to keep the move in perspective, but he's relieved to be on a more level playing field.
"The only thing I see is that when we played a bigger 4A school our good guys had to go both ways and their's didn't," Gillis said. "I know when we played Manvel in the playoffs last year they had 109 on the sideline. We played our guts out, but we couldn't quite finish it."
The biggest downside of dropping to Class 3A was the Ricebirds could not hold spring drills, which is an option for Class 5A and 4A schools.
"It was a big difference," said senior Montray Johnson. "I didn't get to compete with some of my players in the spring game. I didn't get to hit some of my players, which is fun. It was not a good deal when we couldn't go to spring with each other."
Even without spring drills, Hunt has been impressed by what he's seen from his teammates in practice.
"We just have to play as a unit," said Hunt, who along with teammate Trey Martin has committed to Rice. "We don't have a big-time player like Joey (Hunt, now at TCU). This year we have a bunch of good, strong role players, a big offensive line, good, quick running backs, and a good senior quarterback who can throw.
"We've got a real senior-led team this year," he added. "Hopefully we can make the distance this year."
El Campo not only dropped a classification it also moved from Region III to Region IV, which has proven beneficial for Calhoun.
The Sandcrabs have qualified for the playoffs six straight seasons since moving to Region IV from Region III.
"I compare it to what happened with Calhoun," said Michael Perry, who played running back at El Campo from 1992 to 1994 and currently is a commentator on the Ricebirds' radio broadcasts. "I think they can go further now that they're not matched up against La Marque in the first round. I'm looking for them to go pretty far."
El Campo's first order of business will be to qualify for the playoffs out of District 25-3A, which includes Sealy, Columbus, Wharton, Bellville, Needville and Brookshire Royal.
"The deal is we're not just playing subdivision schools now, we're playing communities," said Gills, who formerly coached at Columbus. "They're like El Campo, they're like Bay City, they're like Wharton. In Sealy, those kids want to grow up and be Tigers, Bellville Brahmas and Columbus Cardinals just like we want to grow up and be Ricebirds. It's going to be a real, neat different atmosphere for these guys."
The most welcome change for the Ricebirds would be advancing past the opening round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
"It's a nice little change to see other teams, to be 3A and know what other people expect out of us," Johnson said. "We've got high expectations. We're just going to go out there and compete to the best of our ability."