In their inaugural season earlier this year, the West Texas Pride posted an impressive 10-2 record and reached the Rio Grande Football League Championship Game, where they fell 47-21 to the Sun City Reapers to finish second in the league.
Now, with a solid first year under their belt, the Pride are getting geared up to make an even better push towards hardware in 2017.
“Last year, we had a good first year with the Pride ending up in the championship game in the RGFL, but this season we’re moving into the MPFL (Minor Professional Football League) and we’ve added a few guys that can help us,” Pride owner Harold Fuller told Developmental Football USA.
The Pride will be in a division with the West Texas Outlaws of Lubbock – which are also coming over from the RGFL – the El Paso Seminoles and the Curry County Chiefs. It’s possible this division still adds more teams before the upcoming league deadline, Fuller said.
Developmental Football USA considers the West Texas Pride the early favorite to win the division before advancing to face more difficult teams in the MPFL playoffs.
“I think the Texas Bullets are very well known for being a very good semipro football team and the Austin Vipers as well,” Fuller said. “I know from past years they always put a good team on the football field. The MPFL has several teams in that league that could contend for a championship, that’s what will make it hard for us, to have to step it up and play at these teams’ level.”
While the Pride has a tough road to a championship out in front of them, some new key additions could help them get over the hump and win a championship. The Pride has already hosted tryouts for the 2017 season and more than 120 guys came out in hopes of making the roster, which will have to be cut down to 60 with a 10-man practice squad per MPFL rules.
“People think our running back position may have the most depth this year,” Fuller said. “Dusty Hicks is back this year, he was our Offensive MVP last year. We’re also adding Cory Kyle, who played at Seagraves High School and rushed for over 9,500 yards while he was in high school. Ty Lewis is another running back that gives us depth.”
Veteran quarterback Chris Ware returns to lead the offense behind what should be an even better offensive line from one year ago.
“Chris is probably one of the most talented quarterbacks in all of semipro football,” Fuller said. “We’ll have a pretty good offense. The offensive line is coming back too and we’re adding Chris Viner (6-4, 285), a big tackle, and we’re moving Shannon Lopez (6-3, 275) from defensive end to offensive tackle. He’s looked very good there so far.
Six-foot-five, 325-pound left tackle Robert Montoya and two other veterans also return up front to bolster the line.
Defensively, an already strong Pride defense got even better with key additions at each position group.
“Our linebacker corps, lead up by Curtis Morrow is coming back,” Fuller said. “Brandon Taylor – one of the best defensive backs in all of football is coming back. I’m adding Rich Garrett, who was last year’s MPFL Defensive MVP and we’re also adding outside linebacker Nick Tipton, who’s well known throughout semipro as being a dominant football player.”
Up front, the Pride has added defensive end Gerren Woodard, who came over from the New Mexico Rush of the RGFL.
“We are a better team than we were last year,” Fuller said. “Just those editions all seem to be in the spots that we needed, we got better with those guys. I know I’m forgetting a few guys that were on the team, like the Mo Taylor’s and the Anthony Olvera’s of the offensive line that will make us even better.”
While these players alone factor in heavily for the Pride, they aren’t the only reason for the team’s success on the field.
“Everybody on the team is important,” Fuller said. “It takes every single player working together as one to be a success.”
Like some developmental teams, the Pride doesn’t just come together for a few months in the spring to play their season, rather this group sticks together year round. That family-like atmosphere is a big part of the team’s early success.
“Some of the guys, like Mo Taylor, who’s been in semipro football for a long time point out that the family atmosphere on this team is really strong, so we’re going to work to keep that going,” Fuller said.
“I think every single player on the team asked, if anyone didn’t have a place to go, to join them on the Thanksgiving table,” Fuller said. “They’ve already become a family unit and we’re going to continue to develop that through our faith.”
The pre-season schedule is still in the works for the Pride, but they expect to start their pre-season slate in late January or early February, Fuller said. Until then, their focus is to continue to make each other and others better, both on the field and in the community.
“The team wants to win championships off the field and on the field,” Fuller said. “Whether it’s going to visit kids in the hospital or going out to support the community at a charity walk, just whatever we can do be role models for the kids in the community. Then, of course, we want to win championships on the field too and we’re going to do whatever we can to do that.”