REFUGIO — Antwaan Gross has more than a state championship to play for this season.

Gross was with his Refugio teammates for the first day of practice Monday morning at Jack Sportsman Bobcat Stadium.

But the oppressive heat wasn’t the only obstacle Gross had to overcome.

Gross’ 20-year-old brother, D’Angelo, was killed in a vehicle wreck July 22 and the funeral was Saturday.

“Nothing has really changed,” Gross said. “I have something to play for now. I know he wanted me to keep going. I’m not going to give up on anything. That’s my big brother.”

Refugio coach Jason Herring attended the funeral and has done his best to comfort Gross.

“It’s a real tough deal,” Herring said. “We’ve tried to be there for him and love him. It’s tragic. It’s going to be good for him to be here and be around his friends.”

The Bobcats return eight starters on offense and seven on defense and come into the season ranked No. 1 in Class 2A, Division I.

“We have to stay strong,” Gross said. “We’ve got to condition a lot because we’re going to be going fast this year. We’ve got to be smart and remember all our plays and make smart choices.”

Hayden LaFrance knows a long playoff run is within reach, if the Bobcats remain focused on their goal.

“We need to stay healthy and watch what we do on the weekends,” he said. “COVID will have a big impact. We need to do what we have to do to stay healthy. It will all come down to how dedicated everyone is and how hard everyone works.”

Herring hopes to be playing into December and doesn’t want his team to get ahead of itself.

“The biggest thing is we try not to get into too big of a hurry,” he said. “Our goal is to play 16 weeks, so with two scrimmages you’re playing for 18 to 20 weeks. It’s a long process. We want to stress fundamentals right now. You’ve got a little time to slow down, catch your breath and hammer the fundamentals.”

Gross knows the key to a successful season is to keep improving.

“Everyday I want to get better than yesterday,” he said. “You never want to get behind.”

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Mike Forman is the sports editor of the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or by email at mforman@vicad.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeforman21

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Mike Forman is the sports editor of the Victoria Advocate. He has worked at the Advocate since 1982. He has a bachelor's degree from SMU and a master's degree from UCLA.

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