MAYPEARL — In Maypearl, they run toward contact — around the edge, up the middle and between the tackles.
When the Panthers' season begins against Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School at 7 p.m. Thursday at Handley Field, the approach will be the same and one that gave them an early advantage last year.
If one were to rewind 10 months to the 2016 UIL 3A football season, they'd see Maypearl High School in the midst of a three-game winning streak.
They'd also see them fall out of playoff contention after injuries thinned depth charts at key positions.
"We lost three games to injuries [during the season], but that cannot be an excuse for us"," Maypearl Head Football Coach Tal Sanders, said. "We have to have players who are dedicated and willing to work hard to step in when someone goes down. Our players did work hard this summer to be ready to go when called on."
The Panthers had bested DHJ after a 67-0 rout that featured 314 total yards from seniors Jagger Dixon and Tommy Clark, former player Taylor Mease and three other backs.
It had beaten TAPPS 2A Grace Preparatory Academy 44-14 on the strength of solid tackling of senior Lonnie Brooks and former Panther Tyler Provins and their respective nine and seven stops and ground out a 33-27 overtime win a week later on the road against Clifton High School.
The injury bug, however, as well as Kemp High School, was waiting.
They suffered key losses to starting quarterback Gunner Petty and 6-foot-5 and 310-pound offensive lineman Blake Haynes.
Petty suffered a hamstring injury during the Kemp matchup. Haynes incurred a foot injury midway through the schedule that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
“We’ll see what Gunner’s diagnosis is — he went to the hospital last night — and see where we’re at," Sanders said after the game. "We’ve got another player [Jagger Dixon] with similar skills who should be able to help us keep doing what we do."
The 26-14 loss came despite his Panthers' 316 yards of total offense on only 49 plays. It also moved them into a four-way tie for first place with Sunnyvale, Grandview, and Dallas Madison High Schools.
The prognosis, as well as Dixon's move to quarterback, kept Petty off the field for Maypearl's 28-7 loss to Life Oak Cliff High School.
He said the readiness to move into a new or uncomfortable position will be a key ability this year.
"It is possible that Blake, one of our best linemen, could be out for the year," Sanders said. "Lonnie Brooks is a 5-foot-10 and 220-pound running back for us and he said he would take the call and move to the line to give us the best chance to be successful. For a running back to say he will move to the line for the team is a big deal."
Sanders did not disclose the nature of the injury or any projected timetable for return.
After winning three games against Palmer, Scurry-Rosser, and Dallas Madison High Schools and losing two to rivals Grandview and Sunnyvale, the Panthers finished the season 6-4 overall and 3-4 in District 6-3A-1.
It put Sanders and the Panthers two games away from reaching the playoffs and snapped a streak of three consecutive seasons that they had accomplished the feat.
The last time a Maypearl team hadn't made the playoffs was after a 0-6 finish in 2012.
The mantra of the Sanders-led Panther team, though, is one of "next man up" and "every player has a role to play." He said that line of thinking, as well as health, could shift his team back into the postseason picture.
To Maypearl's sideline general, their playoff march begins and ends with veteran leadership.
He noted Brooks, Dixon, Haynes, and Petty, as well as Santana Carrizales, Luis Dermas, Kevin Garcia, Tariq Massey, Kenneth McGinn, and Robert Pinter as such leaders.
"Our biggest loss was Cole Maxwell, who was a captain and one of our big play makers. He will play this year at Texas Wesleyan as a receiver. We have had kids step in at other positions that we believe will give us a stronger team," Sanders said. "We have 10 seniors that started for us last year that will set the tone for how we play each game. These players lead by example and will lead us to success."
They may also get a boost from a hometown edge.
Two of their four district losses last season will be played at home in the friendly confines of W. G. Roesler Stadium. Arguably its toughest matchup of the year, against Sunnyvale, will be on the road.
Sunnyvale defeated Maypearl 63-14 Oct. 28 en route to an undefeated district championship and an area round berth.
"Our goal is to win every game we play this year," Sanders said. "There are some very good teams in our district. If our kids do what they have committed to do we should compete with everyone we play. At the end of each game, it still comes down to the team that blocked and tackled the best. Our goal is to play like a team and be the best blockers and tacklers."
Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.