Richard Williams can’t remember the last time he was part of a team that went through the regular season undefeated, as a coach or even a player.
So, the Episcopal School of Dallas head coach was stunned when the Eagles were perfect against their SPC rivals last season — not because his team wasn’t capable, but since he knows the difficulty of such a feat.
ESD capped the season with a loss to Houston Kinkaid 42-17 in the conference title game, giving an experienced roster plenty of motivation to go one step further this fall.
“It was sad coming off a heartbreaking loss like that,” senior quarterback Patrick Burke said. “We want to get back there and win it this time.”
Repeating that feat will be challenging, especially since the Eagles won’t be sneaking up on the rest of the SPC 4A division this time.
“The bar has been raised now,” Williams said. “The focus is at that championship level. To do what we did last year is going to take more effort.”
Still, ESD looks equipped to make another run behind a high-powered offense that returns 10 starters after averaging 41 points per game a year ago.
Burke, who will begin his third season as the starter, passed for more than 2,000 yards with 30 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also led the Eagles in rushing with 708 yards and 10 scores, gaining more than seven yards per attempt.
“There’s an air of confidence that experienced quarterbacks have, and he has that,” Williams said. “He’s going to be a better thrower and make wiser decisions. His leadership of the offense is going to grow exponentially as the season goes along.”
Several other playmakers also are back, including receiver Blair Brennan, who was Burke’s top target with 41 catches for 671 yards and eight touchdowns. Two-way standout Collin Nicholson accounted for more than 600 all-purpose yards and six offensive scores as a sophomore while also seeing significant action at linebacker.
Teddy Sparrow provides a weapon as a tight end, while the offensive line again should be solid with the return of Andrew Chairuangdej, Jackson Bloomfield, and Will Searcy.
The ESD defense must replace a pair of linemen who signed with Division I college programs, including Chase Kennedy (Utah) and Jaden Robinson (New Mexico State). That leaves strong tackler Justin McCray to anchor the line from his tackle spot alongside Hunt Sands.
In addition to utilizing a handful of two-way players, Williams expects some younger players to play more prominent roles, such as running back Jackson Pennington and speedster Jordan Hutchinson, who also plays basketball.
Plus, the non-district schedule received an upgrade, with games against local rival Trinity Christian, TAPPS powerhouse Grapevine Faith, and public-school foe Gladewater Sabine leading into the four-game conference slate.
“I’m so excited because they are tough teams,” Williams said. “We’ve got some tests before we head into conference. That’s what we want.”
The Eagles have earned three SPC crowns in their history, most recently in 2014, but never in the large-school classification. Could this be the year that changes?
“That experience goes a really long way,” McCray said. “If we get there this year, we will be ready to win it.”