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Friday Night Lights: The next step – Decatur sets sights on a championship

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, August 29, 2018
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Decatur

Last November, Decatur knocked off longtime nemesis Abilene Wylie in the bi-district round of the playoffs, exacting revenge more than a decade after the Bulldogs spoiled the Eagles’ 2004 playoff run.

A week later, Decatur edged Andrews in the area round, advancing to the region quarterfinals for the first time since 2013.

This season, the Eagles have loftier goals with sights set on a state title.

“That’s certainly what we’re hoping to do,” said head coach Mike Fuller. “Not to put the cart before the horse, but we always want to take the next step and be a little better than we were the year before. I feel like we’ve got a good group of kids.”

To complete their quest for a state championship, the Eagles will have to navigate one of the toughest schedules in 4A. Decatur squares off against three of the top 10 teams in its classification, according to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.

The Eagles open at No. 7 Kennedale and will also face No. 6 Midlothian Heritage. They will also see Graham, Glen Rose and Alvarado in non-district. All five non-district opponents made the playoffs in 2017.

Decatur opens District 4-4A Division I at home Oct. 12 against No. 9 Hirschi.

Fuller said his team is up for the task, and believes the grueling schedule will pay dividends in the postseason.

“They like a challenge,” Fuller said. “You’re seeing better talent and better athletes. We’re going to be tougher because of it, regardless of what our record is.

“As long as [non-district] doesn’t crush you, if you can handle it mentally and you survive it, you aren’t surprised by a really good team in the playoffs or down the road.”

The Eagles went 8-5 last season, winning the second-most games in Fuller’s five-year tenure as head coach. Decatur posted a 9-2 mark in 2015, but lost in the bi-district round to Stephenville.

Texas Football projects the Eagles to meet Hirschi in the 4A Division I Region I final, with the Huskies winning and advancing to the state semi-finals.

“We’re just trying to live up to the [high expectations],” said senior receiver Beau Bedford. “I think we have a good shot at making it to the [region final] or even farther. We have a good team, and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year.”

DECATUR EAGLES IN A CAPSULE

2017 record: 8-5, 3-2

Region quarterfinalists

Head coach: Mike Fuller, fifth year at Decatur (31-16)

OVERVIEW

Decatur made its deepest playoff run since 2013 last season, advancing to the region quarterfinals. The Eagles lost multiple impact players to graduation and will also be without all-state quarterback Wilson Hicks, who opted not to play football this year. Decatur has a favorable region and district, and is projected by many to make the 4A Region I final.

OFFENSE

The Eagles’ high-powered offense that averaged 45 points last year will be without several key contributors in 2018.

All-state lineman Ty Watson and three of Decatur’s five leading receivers from 2017 – Alec Uselton, Mario Reyes and Dane Fitzgerald – graduated.

Bedford was third on the team in receiving in 2017, hauling in 65 catches for 745 yards. He will likely be Decatur’s top target on the outside.

“Beau had a really good year for us last year, and I think he’s going to be even better suited to be an outside receiver,” Fuller said.

The Eagles will also have a new signal caller with Roman Fuller taking over for Hicks.

The junior threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns last year, completing 63.8 percent of his passes in limited action.

“There’s no question he’s ready for it,” Fuller said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He’s been preparing for this his whole life. He knows what to do with the ball, has a really strong arm and is accurate.”

Junior A.J. Martinez will return as the Eagles’ featured running back. The District 4-4A Division I Newcomer of the Year piled up 1,369 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. He was also Decatur’s fourth-leading receiver, racking up 651 yards and six scores.

“I feel like he’s going to have a real breakout season, even more than last year,” said Bedford of Martinez. “He’s so strong, stocky and has a lot of speed. It’s almost impossible to tackle him.”

DEFENSE

Injuries hampered Decatur’s defense last season, as several starters went down at various points throughout the year.

Opponents averaged 42.5 points against the Eagles. Decatur surrendered more than 40 points in seven games last year and gave up more than 60 points in losses to Argyle and Hirschi.

To help combat this, Fuller said more players will be trained to play both ways.

“It will help us to always have guys competing for spots, and if we get an injury, we have the next best player available,” Fuller said.

Decatur’s top three tacklers from 2017 – Harrison Haney, Cole Denman and Dylan Nation – graduated. The Eagles return senior Zane Hickey, who posted 51 tackles last year, as well as junior Seth Hakanson.

Decatur also landed transfer Hunter Johnson from Northwest.

Fuller said he is confident in Decatur’s front seven.

“I think our defensive line is going to be stout,” Fuller said. “I feel great about our linebackers.

“I think we have some guys that are ready to step in as first-year starters. They’re hungry.”

OUTLOOK

Surviving non-district will be pivotal for Decatur. The Eagles open the season against Kennedale, the 4A Division I runner-up last year, and also play Graham, who lost in the 4A Division II Region I final. With a new starting quarterback in Roman Fuller and several young receivers, Decatur’s offense will need to gel quickly. If the offense comes together and the defense improves, the Eagles have a good shot at playing well into December.

Record prediction: 7-3 overall, 4-1 in 4-4A Division I for second place

2017 DECATUR RESULTS

Decatur 69, Springtown 35
Decatur 28, Alvarado 21 (OT)
Midlothian Heritage 35, Decatur 21
Stephenville 41, Decatur 20
Decatur 61, Bridgeport 28
Argyle 62, Decatur 21
Hirschi 69, Decatur 36
Decatur 65, Gainesville 51
Decatur 69, Burkburnett 49
Decatur 65, Sanger 21
Decatur 48, Abilene Wylie 34
Decatur 55, Andrews 48
Hirschi 58, Decatur 28

2018 DECATUR SCHEDULE

Aug. 31 … @ Kennedale
Sept. 7 … Alvarado
Sept. 14 … @ Midlothian Heritage
Sept. 21 … Graham
Sept. 28 … @ Glen Rose
Oct. 5 … BYE
Oct. 12 … Wichita Falls Hirschi
Oct. 19 … @ Springtown
Oct. 26 … Mineral Wells
Nov. 2 … Burkburnett
Nov. 9 … Gainesville

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