Burleson Centennial running back Shone Nuall has grown used to his classmates questioning him.
The Centennial student body is ready for its first-ever varsity football game tonight against Dallas Hillcrest -- the band has practiced, the cheerleaders have their routines, and the blue and silver Spartans mascot is prepared to fire up the student section.
But no one asks Nuall about those things. Everyone wants to know if the football team is ready.
"They walk up and ask how we are looking, if we are going to be good enough for varsity," Nuall said. "They even want to know what we think our record will be."
He has a simple answer.
"I just tell them we are going to be good. They should come out and watch us," Nuall said. "All of the players are excited, the whole school is excited, and I feel like we are ready."
Last year, Centennial had JV and freshman teams. This season, the Spartans have a varsity squad for the first time, but with no seniors on the roster. Centennial, which is in District 7-3A in every sport except football, will play a 10-game schedule -- including private schools and a few new schools like themselves -- without a district.
"The list of difficulties getting ready for your first year is endless," Centennial coach Kyle Geller said. "Everything is still somewhat new. We feel like we laid a strong foundation last year with our ninth and 10th grade teams. I don't want my kids to freeze up [tonight] with the pressure of a first game. How do you prepare for that?"
On Monday, Geller considered telling his players: "It's OK if we do not win our first game," just to take the pressure away. He didn't.
"I considered it, but I wanted them to know that their coach has faith in them and thinks they can win. And I do," Geller said. "I think we do feel some pressure. There are going to be a lot of students and parents at that game, wanting us to win our first. But we can't have a fear of making mistakes or a fear of losing. We have to just go compete as hard as we can. If we do that, we will be OK."
Last week, Geller took his team to the renamed Burleson Stadium. Shone Nuall and his brother Trent, a safety, played together for Burleson their freshman year before transferring to Centennial, so they have played on the field. Many of the other players had never been to the former Elk Stadium.
"We looked around and said: 'When we play here, this is going to be our field. We are going to play like it's ours,'" Nuall said. "We are going to put Centennial up, play our hardest, and hopefully come out with a win."
Geller has experience with a new program. He was the head coach at Mansfield Summit its first season. The Jaguars finished 5-5 their first year, and won district the next season. Summit, however, had a senior class. At Centennial, Geller has nothing but inexperience.
"We just have to focus on not turning the ball over and running it well on offense," said Geller, who has 40 juniors on his roster. "On defense, we will have to make sure we aren't missing assignments. If we do those things, we will be OK."
The Centennial players, while young, don't lack confidence.
"It would be an advantage to have seniors, but at the same time, I'm glad in a way that we don't," Trent Nuall said. "Football is supposed to be a challenge, and we're ready for the challenge. I think teams might overlook us at first. But we are going to make sure that, after we play them, they will know who we are. We are out to make a good name for ourselves."
The players are getting their confidence from Geller.
"All of our coaches have done an awesome job to prepare us," Shone Nuall said. "They have us ready, helping us improve in every area every day."
The main goal for Geller is to get through tonight's opener.
"It's going to take this big game for us to get ready, and then it's like the season starts after that," he said. "I expect us, after each game, to sit and watch film and say: 'We played that game as hard as we could.' If we do that, we are going to have some wins. We are going to improve and have a chance to be a really good football team."
Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760