After grinding through a tough Class 3A Division I district the last two years, the Jarrell Cougars moved up in classification and have a schedule full of unfamiliar opponents. The rise to 4A Division II would seem challenging for a program that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015, but the Cougars have reasons to be optimistic.

First, fourth-year coach Amos Davidson guided Jarrell from an 0-10 record in his first season to the playoff cusp each of the last two seasons, in which the Cougars fell shy by just one win.

Second, Jarrell’s district the last two years included Cameron Yoe and Rockdale — both of which won state titles within the last 10 years — and Troy, which won the league title last season.

“We have a lot of big names we are playing against now,” Jarrell senior lineman Brennam Wilson said. “China Spring, Robinson, they’ve been good for some years and we haven’t been the best, so a lot of doubt is on us. But we played against Cameron Yoe, who has multiple state championships, Rockdale, who won state a couple years ago, and Troy. So it prepares us for a 4A district because those teams could easily win in 4A.”

In fact, Davidson said he felt the only thing keeping the Cougars from beating Yoe, Rockdale and Troy was a mental block.

“The last two years, we missed the playoffs by one game,” he said. “We played everyone else close. But when it came to those top three teams, we’d go to those games and just (falter). I talked to my seniors last year and asked what it is and they said, ‘Coach, they are who they are.’

“So (moving up) is good because there is no preconceived notion about what it’s going to be like on a Friday night with who we are playing. Except for our non-district game with McGregor, I don’t think our guys have ever played any of the teams we face this year.”

Along with Jarrell, China Spring and Robinson, District 9-4A-II includes Waco Connally, Gatesville and Salado.

Strength in the offense

An offense that returns six starters, including top receiver Joseph Crathers and running back Derrick Warren, will be the key to the Cougars’ success.

Aiden Edgar, who served as the backup quarterback last year, takes over as the starter.

“Aiden has come a long way,” Davidson said. “It’s no secret in me saying that the last couple of years his ball flew really weird. It was hard to figure out. He’s a baseball player so he has a good arm. But something about that ball, it would spiral then it would just turn sideways like he was throwing a curve ball or something. Now he’s throwing a really good ball.

“He’s bigger than our QB last year, and he runs a bit more heavy.”

New faces all around

In addition to a different classification and quarterback, the Cougars also have some new faces on the sideline.

David Seaborn came from Cedar Park Vista Ridge to take over as the defensive coordinator, and Andrew Sumner was promoted to offensive coordinator.

On the field, while the offense has experience, a defense that is expected to start six sophomores has to grow up quickly.

“There’s an old saying in football. You lose a game for every sophomore you have,” Davidson said. “But I don’t think that’s going to be the case. We have full confidence in those guys or they wouldn’t be there.”

Big game

Though coaches typically like to say every game is big, most know there are some that are more important than others. For the Cougars, the key game on the schedule will be their second district contest in which they visit Robinson on Oct. 9.

“I think that will be a big game for us,” Davidson said. “It could be a telltale sign of where we will end up.”