A program rebuild. A new head coach. An entire community in Red Oak itching to rally around a high school football team.
A new era of Red Oak Hawk football is underway and, after the annual Maroon-White scrimmage, the future looks bright for first-year Red Oak head football coach Chris Ross and company.
Ross recently completed his first month of spring practices at the high school ranks in a couple years, as he was hired away from Boise State after a two-year run as the director of program development. He has, though, served as a high school football coach and athletic director for 21 years.
Ross said it was "exciting" to watch the Hawks improve daily and then to see how excited they were for the spring game.
"It was great to see the support of the booster club and the administration did a great job getting the word out there in the community," said Ross of the spring game. "Throughout spring I was very pleased with the progress on both sides of the football, both offensively and defensively. I think we have made great strides. We are certainly not where we want to be, but we are a lot closer than we were on day one."
One of the players who continually impressed the coaching staff throughout the spring was QB1-hopeful, Zayid Aziz.
As a junior last season, Aziz appeared in seven games under center. He completed just 9-of-24 passing (38%) for 188 yards, four interceptions, and one touchdown.
Ross said Aziz, "had a good game with a couple of long runs. He is really stepping up at the quarterback position. We are really pleased with him."
He hopes to replace Carson Forbes (34-97, 461 yards, 5TD, 3INT) and Josiah Porter (6-17, 45 yards, INT). The tandem led the Hawks to a pair of wins in 2017, just one year removed from the Hawks snapping a Red Oak snapped a 21-game losing streak Sept. 2, 2016, which dated back to Nov. 8, 2013.
The Hawks are 5-35 over the last four seasons.
Aziz will have the luxury of throwing the football to the three leading receivers from last season in seniors Jacob Proche (18-230), Hunter Smith (9-249, 3TD) and Tallon Heine (10-107, 2TD).
The Hawks also return leading rusher CJ Palmer, who carried the football 168 times for 745 yards and five touchdowns. Aziz added 147 yards on 35 carries.
"I thought CJ Palmer had a really good scrimmage, as well. Defensively, Preston Young, our inside linebacker did a really great job. Proche also had a really great spring game."
Proche will be a three-year starter when he takes the field in the fall and has stepped into a leadership role for the Hawks.
"I am expecting big things out Proche and Zion, and both did great things all spring, also. Another one is Dee Johnson. He had a great spring and has proven to be a leader on and off of the football field."
Ross sais he has preached to the Hawks on the importance of improving each day during the offseason and leading up to camp opening later this summer.
"What these guys have to do right now is attack the challenge," added Ross, who also applauded the community-wide buy-in.
"There is no doubt, that from day one, the community members, administration and the athletes all wanted to be successful," he continued. "These athletes understand that we have a plan in place and a process that will get us there. I think they see that and they are doing everything they can to make sure that we are where we need to be."
Oh, and as for the turf at Billy Goodloe Stadium, Ross is quick to dispel any notion of bringing the Boise State blue to Red Oak. He isn't opposed, though, to the addition of a little color when the time comes.
"Maybe maroon turf. Maybe. Wouldn't that be nice?"
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith