Most people have heard the familiar expression: close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
It’s something Highland’s football team can certainly relate to the past two years under coach Jeff Shelton.
In 2011, the Hornets were a missed extra-point conversion away from the play-offs. Last year, Highland — though winless in district play — lost nailbiters (at least for six-man football) in two of its three games.
However, the vast major-ity of the 2012 players are back and a year older, as only two seniors graduated. And nine of the returning players received all-district honors this past season. Of those nine, two — running back Michael Hyde and defensive lineman Shelby Howard — were all-region honorable mention picks by the Texas Six-Man Coaches Association. Hyde, who is currently nursing a quad injury, ran for 1,055 yards and 14 touchdowns while Howard had eight fumble recoveries, nine sacks and 70 tackles a year ago.
Howard will also start at fullback, with Hyde as the tailback in Highland’s mul-tiple offense.
Jacob Richburg goes in as the starting quarterback, with Toby Falcon at center and Kevin Box and Gaga Soedarsono as the ends. In addition, coach Shelton will use Zack Cornett at center, Laramie Thompson at end, Ethan Wilson as the spread back, Isaac Rios at tailback and Shelton’s son, Eli Shel-ton, at fullback. Eli Shelton will also be used as High-land’s long snapper.
Expected to get starting nods in the 2-3 defensive setup are Soedarsono and Eli Shelton on the line, Howard at linebacker, Hyde and Richburg on the corners and Wilson at safety. Falcon and Seth Wood at defensive end, Rios at cornerback and Box at safety will also get extensive action.
Coach Shelton has more depth than a year ago as the Hornets have 28 players — up from 22 in 2012 — on their roster, and at least half of them are expected to see extensive JV action.
“Our number one goal is getting into the postseason,” Shelton said, “and the next goal is a district championship. This could be the best team I’ve had in three years, but if we don’t bring it every night we could be home (for the playoffs). But this is a good group and we’ve got good leadership.
“We’ve been knocking on the door the last two years. But our kids understand that close won’t cut it.”