Tigers

Belton running back D’emante Smith goes through a drill Monday morning during the Tigers’ first practice of the season.

BELTON — Even with head coach Sam Skidmore lurking nearby, offensive lineman Thomas Bowman conceded that conditioning is his least favorite component.

Bowman, though, wasn’t going to let what awaited the Belton Tigers — the fortitude-testing snake drill that requires a participant to run the width of the field, turning and going the other direction every 5 yards, from one end zone to the other — at the end of Monday’s football practice spoil what otherwise felt like a glorious albeit humid Central Texas morning.

“I’ll tell you, I didn’t sleep last night. I was anticipating it today,” Bowman, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound left tackle, said of the team’s first day of fall camp while standing next to one of the giant water coolers that surrounded Tiger Field. “Got up early, saw all my guys, told them how important it was. It’s just very exciting to come out here and play football.”

And part of football is all that conditioning, which Bowman, despite his opinion of it, acknowledged was a necessary evil to master in preparation for a Week 1 encounter Aug. 30 with Class 6A preseason top-10 Austin Westlake and beyond.

“Pump it up on the running, get conditioned and get everything down as a team,” Bowman said. “We need to work hard as a team. We have to hit it hard to get better.”

That’s definitely the name of the game between now and the season opener, which is why Bowman wasn’t the only one who couldn’t wait for even the toughest part of Day 1.

“I had the jitters. I was really excited and anxious to get up in the morning,” senior linebacker Grant Milligan said. “For people that don’t play football and don’t play for the team, it’s just another day, another morning for them. For us, we get to see people we possibly haven’t seen all summer. We get to play our favorite sport. I mean, every aspect about it — the heat, the helmet, the cleats — it’s just built in us that we love it.”

Skidmore, entering his third season in charge of the Tigers, also was short on shut eye Sunday night and arrived to Belton’s athletic complex at 4 a.m. Monday, two hours before the team reported for its leap into the 2019 campaign. What eventually greeted him was what he said was an eager group of players anxious to begin a quest to improve upon last season’s 7-4 record and extend the program-best playoff streak to six straight years.

“It’s like a fresh start and also kind of the culmination of all those months of preparation, so everybody is always raring to go,” said Skidmore, referring to the offseason that included spring practice, 7-on-7 and summer workouts. “Energy level has been great. Execution has been very good, and I’m pleased with that.”

The Tigers return a combined eight starters between offense and defense — perhaps the most notable on each side of the ball being junior quarterback Ruben Jimenez and senior safety Jason Stephens — leaving plenty of room for newcomers to earn spots.

New faces also are included among the coaching ranks. Belton has a new defensive coordinator in Ty Pattrick, who most recently was at Flower Mound Marcus, new defensive line coach Quinten Sterling from San Antonio Reagan, and new receivers coach Michael Thornton.

Before the regular season begins, the Tigers will scrimmage at Leander Vandegrift on August 22. The road tilt against the Chaparrals is followed by a clash with Round Rock that will serve as Belton’s home opener, senior night and final non-district game.

The eight-game District 12-6A slate kicks off Sept. 13 at Copperas Cove.

“We just want to give 100 percent in everything we do, finish and rise as one,” senior defensive back Ivan Lemus said.