The District 7-6A gantlet begins Friday night for Waxahachie, and even with perhaps the toughest opponent right from the get-go, there doesn’t seem to be a cupcake in the bunch.

Every weekend will be a battle for the Indians (1-2) in this circuit, and by all the early indications, they won’t back down from anyone. Not even No. 12-ranked DeSoto, which comes calling to Lumpkins Stadium at 7:30 p.m.

“We’ve got to prepare heavily every week,” Indians head coach Todd Alexander said. “We have to go with the mindset that we’re playing the best in the district every week, no matter who we’re playing.”

Entering district play, DeSoto and Mansfield Summit are the two unbeatens at 3-0; Summit last week beat Mesquite Poteet, the team the Indians topped on Sept. 6. Mansfield Lake Ridge enters at 2-1, with everyone else, including Waxahachie, in the pack.

But that pack also includes Cedar Hill, the Dave Campbell’s Texas Football preseason favorite to win the district; and South Grand Prairie, picked by the magazine to finish in the top four.

“Everybody knows as good as I do how good these teams are,” Alexander said. “They’ve got a lot of athletes who are big, fast and aggressive. That’s talking about the whole district there. DeSoto is no different.”

The Eagles, who are coached once again by Claude Mathis, dominated Dallas Bishop Dunne last Saturday, 49-0. DeSoto also handled Odessa Permian in Week 1, 35-14, and outscored Dallas Jesuit two weeks ago, 55-27.

Samari Collier passed for 294 yards and four touchdowns for the Eagles against Bishop Dunne and added 60 yards rushing, including a 33-yarder. Christopher Henley Jr., a 205-pound sophomore, ran for a team-high 89 rushing yards and a pair of scores.

Eagles senior wide receiver Lawrence Arnold has verbally committed to Kansas and is listed among the top recruits in Texas by DeSoto will run behind big tackle Armaj Adams-Reed, who has offers from North Texas, Southern Miss and Utah State.

“They throw the ball a lot,” Alexander said. “They move it around to different receivers. The quarterback is real catty; he’ll escape the pocket and will extend plays. He likes to run. They’ve got a quick running back who hits the hole downhill hard.”

Defensively, DeSoto senior cornerback Jabbar Muhammad has committed to Oklahoma State. Junior middle linebacker Byron Murphy II is the Eagles’ leading tackler with 21 stops through three games as well as a fumble recovery for a touchdown; and junior Shemar Turner has four sacks.

“They’ve got a really, really good defense,” Alexander said. “They’ve got a front seven that’s as good as anybody you’ll ever see. They play a lot of man coverage and they’ve got athletes in the secondary. They’re going to cover us man and send the rest of them.”

Even in their two losses so far, the Indians have made a game of it in the fourth quarter. Last week at Flower Mound Marcus, they whittled a 25-point deficit down to 10 and had a shot at cutting it even closer, making some Marauder fans nervous late.

One big factor is the emergence of junior wideout Brandon Hawkins Jr. as the lead receiving target for senior quarterback Campbell Sullivan. Hawkins has been Sullivan’s go-to guy, with double-digit catches for triple-digit yardage in each of the last two outings. On the year, Hawkins already has 28 catches for 357 yards and six TDs, adding a seventh last week on his 58-yard punt return.

“It takes a little time to get into sync with your receivers and know your different receivers,” Alexander said. “Campbell didn’t play much quarterback last year and we’ve got a lot of new receivers out there. So they’re each starting to know how they run routes, and their speed, their breaks and their timing. Getting in sync with that is just part of that timing process. It takes a little time and you can see it now developing, and it’s fun to watch.”

In fact, making it fun to play may be a big reason why the Indians have been competitive, and a strong second-half team so far.

“One of the things that we’ve strived hard to build over the offseason is a family-type culture, and we’ve done that,” Alexander said. “The coaches coach hard and the kids play hard, and even though we work hard at practice we try to have fun with the kids.

“It’s that fine line between focus and goofing around. We are focused,” Alexander added. “But we all like being around each other and being together, and that’s what makes it fun. I think that’s a result of why they keep playing hard.”