As his players finished up spring practice, Lebanon Trail High School football coach Sadd Jackson was asked how he felt about his team. Was he excited? Nervous? Something in between?
“I’m feeling all of it,” Jackson said.
The whole team is, and that’s to be expected at a high school that has yet to play its first varsity football game. It’s the same feeling about six miles north at Memorial High School, which has yet to play an official football game at any level – and hasn’t even had a day of classes.
Memorial opens for the fall semester as Frisco ISD’s 10th high school, following in the footsteps of Lebanon Trail, which opened as the District’s ninth high school two years ago. Each campus will have freshmen through juniors for the 2018-19 school year and its athletic teams will compete on the playing field against their “older” FISD peers.
“I just want the guys to give it everything they have, and they’ve done that,” Memorial football coach Derick Roberson said after his team’s spring workouts. “They’re good kids, and the practices have been great. The only thing we can ask of them is to compete at their highest level. If they do that, I think things will work out.”
It will be a year of many firsts for Lebanon Trail and Memorial, as well as for all FISD football teams. For the first time in Class 5A, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) has divided football teams into Division I and Division II before the start of the season. The split is based on the enrollment numbers schools reported on the UIL’s Snapshot Day last October.
Schools with an enrollment of more than 1,840 are in Division I and schools under that cutoff are in Division II. The result is that, for the next two football seasons, six FISD high schools will play football in Division I and four will play in Division II. In all other sports, FISD high schools will compete in the same district.
The new alignment can be a little confusing, but the football division can benefit FISD football players. Jackson said he likes that the division will allow his players the chance to bond together through road trips to schools such as Lovejoy and Princeton.
“It also exposes you to outside competition,” Jackson said. “A lot of these kids have been playing against the same kids back to their days in the Frisco Football League.”
The UIL divisions will also allow FISD football teams the opportunity to compete for eight playoff spots instead of four. Each UIL district has four playoff qualifiers in each sport, regardless of the number of teams in the district.
“It’s more opportunity for our kids,” said FISD Athletic Director David Kuykendall, “and that’s what we’re all about.”
Players at Lebanon Trail and Memorial will have lots of opportunities to make school history this season as they take the field for the first time as varsity players. Roberson, who took over at Memorial after leading the Class 6A program at Dallas Skyline High School, knows there will be challenges in the first year. Fortunately, he has many FISD peers who can offer advice. Roberson said he has talked with football coaches such as Kyle Story, who started Independence High School’s football program in 2014, and Chad Cole, who started Reedy High School’s program in 2015.
Without any seniors this fall, the challenge for Lebanon Trail and Memorial is obvious. But Jackson and Roberson agree that it’s going to be a season of excitement – and building.
“We need to teach these kids to look at the long term, not the short term,” Jackson said. “Stay the course, keep working hard and good things will happen.”