Llano, new coach face motivated Smithville squad with 19 returning starters

STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO

LLANO — Perhaps the happiest people to see the Llano and Smithville high school football teams take the artificial turf at Llano Stadium on Friday, Sept. 1, are the Tigers.

The city of Smithville had 20 inches of rain and flooding because of Hurricane Harvey.

Llano High School organizations will gather donations during the contest to give to Smithville officials to distribute to students and staff in need. Donation boxes will be located at the gates and concession stands.

Llano High School had a T-shirt specifically made for the occasion, which will be sold at the game for $15 each. Proceeds from the T-shirts, once the printing is paid for, will be given to school districts in Smithville and Rockport-Fulton, which is on the Gulf Coast and was devastated by the storm when it first made landfall the night of Aug. 25.

The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at the stadium, 400 Texas 71 East.

The Yellow Jackets of District 13-4A Division II are looking to start the 2017 season with a victory under new head coach Matt Green. On the opposite side of the field is a very motivated opponent that didn’t win a game last year. Smithville, a member District 10-4A Division II, returns 19 starters.

“That’s unheard of,” Green said about the number of Tigers returning. “The thing that sticks out is they have a lot of experience back from last year. They’re blessed at wide receiver and running back. Their quarterback and secondary has good speed.”

Smithville, which uses a version of the spread offense, is led by senior running back Nomar Rivera, who rushed for 1,034 yards in 2016. Other key contributors will be senior quarterback Zach Kirby and senior receiver Kalob Jonas.

Green said the Tigers will line up in a variety of spread formations with a tight end on some plays and players in the shotgun in others.

As for the Smithville defense, Green said it’s challenging to pin down because its two scrimmage opponents ran vastly different offenses from Llano’s spread.

For the Yellow Jackets, junior Cade Fly will take over at quarterback, while senior Ben Walling slides from quarterback to running back.

Green said he believes the scrimmages against Little River Academy and Comanche prepared Fly for what’s coming.

“He’s performed well,” the coach said. “Now, the atmosphere on Friday will be different. He has to come out and get in a groove.”

Green commended Walling’s willingness to learn a new position and how the senior has embraced it. The new running back has scored three offensive touchdowns and returned an interception for a touchdown as a linebacker.

“That’s not always an easy position for a kid,” Green said. “Ben has responded well. He’s been extremely effective in our run game. Ben is bigger and faster and, physically, he’s difficult to tackle. It makes our team better.”

Still, for Green, it’s about what the Yellow Jackets do. He wants his athletes to play at a high level from the opening play to the end of the contest.

“I want us to come out of the gate faster and play well,” he said.   

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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