ARLINGTON -- Not long after falling to eventual state champ Southlake Carroll in the state quarterfinals last season, Arlington Martin coach Bob Wager said the team would "get right back after it."
Off-season conditioning, spring training, 7-on-7 games and more weight-room work in the summer was on tap.
Such is the life of a football player in a top high school program in Texas. The Warriors are on a mission to reach the summit of high school football in the Lone Star State.
Martin took the field Monday morning for the first official practice of the season with the look of a team that knows what it is.
This is Wager's seventh season at the school and he believes that this could be the best team in the Warriors' 31-year history.
That is a bold statement considering they are fresh off a breakout year that saw them set a single-season school record for wins (12) and make the deepest playoff jaunt ever.
"We're excited because I have great confidence in the way our coaches and team has prepared," Wager said.
"Everybody is here, they are on time and in great physical condition. There is excitement because it's the first day of practice but really it's just a continuation of the process of all the things that have happened since December."
A lot of that optimism depends on the healthy return of one of the top running backs in the state in 5-foot-11, 195-pound Kyle Hicks.
The Texas commitment totaled more than 1,900 yards and 29 touchdowns a season ago but is coming back from a foot injury sustained toward the end of last season.
"My foot is good and is getting better every day; it's not 100 percent yet but it's getting better every day," Hicks said Monday between practices. "I have to ease into it and take my time with it."
Hicks will be joined in the backfield by Eric Hughes (5-11, 180), who played wide receiver last season. The plan is for Hicks and Hughes to be interchangeable as quarterback and running back.
"Everybody has been working with me; the coaches, Kyle has been helping me out," Hughes said.
"It's different, everybody is looking at you as a player and you have to call the offense and make sure everybody does what they are supposed to do. Coach needed me to move so that's what I did to try and help the team out so we can go win state."
Despite returning three starters, Wager said there is an open competition between nine talented players for the five starting positions along the offensive line.
The other side of the ball is expected to be the strength of the team.
Martin returns seven starters, led by safety Matt Waller (118 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, seven interceptions) and defensive end Myles Garrett (6-4, 230).
Wager said that Garrett could be better than Devonte Fields, an all-state selection last year who is climbing the depth chart at TCU. Garrett already holds offers from Arkansas, Minnesota and Texas.
"It feels great to be out here, I want to get ready for the season and do my best to come out starting on fire," Garrett said. "I don't feel any pressure, I just want to do the best to my ability and try and make my teammates perform just as well as me."
Perhaps the best indicator of how far the Warriors' program has grown under Wager and his staff is this season's nondistrict schedule.
Martin scrimmages Allen on Aug. 24 and opens up the regular season against DeSoto a week later at Cravens Field. Then they travel to Dallas Skyline, a team many consider to be the top team in the state, on Sept. 7.
"That's who we'll play [in the playoffs] it really doesn't get more complicated than that," Wager said. "Having said that I think you take a step back and look at where we are as a program. If we had done that years ago it may not have been in our best interest; now we view it as a great opportunity.
"We would like to be considered in the conversation for teams that can be very successful, that's what we are all working for and we feel like we're at a point where we are at least a legitimate possibility for that conversation."
Jarret Johnson, 817-390-7760