Countdown to kickoff: Haltom Buffalos
By Ryan Osborne
Special to the Star-Telegram
Haltom Buffalos
District 7-6A

Last season: 3-7 (1-6 in District 4-5A)

Key players: RB Hector Vasquez (5-9, 170), QB Joey Opitz (6-0, 170), LB Joseph Banks (6-1, 220), DE Jaylan Cruz (5-10, 205), SS William Forrester (6-0, 165).

The big picture: When the UIL announced its realignments in February, one of the first districts that drew statewide attention was District 7-6A. State contenders Southlake Carroll, Euless Trinity and Coppell were grouped together, forming what’s been referred to only half-jokingly as the SEC of high school football. That trio, combined with perennial playoff qualifiers Hurst Bell and Colleyville Heritage, make 7-6A one of the toughest paths to the postseason. All of that makes it unsurprising that Haltom, a team that hasn’t won more than four games in any of the past four seasons, is doing anything and everything it can do to heighten its preparation after going 3-7 last season. Part of that involves a new coach in Jason Tucker, a former Carroll assistant who most recently was the defensive coordinator at Saginaw Chisholm Trail. Tucker brings with him a pass-oriented offense, something senior quarterback Joey Opitz said he has enjoyed so far. The Buffalos were able to implement most of the new schemes — on both sides of the ball — during spring workouts, Tucker said. In addition to Opitz, Haltom returns running back Hector Vasquez, who will play a key role in pass protection. Linebacker Joseph Banks provides a sizable frame at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. Haltom’s schedule initially sets up with a chance to match last season’s win total. The Buffalos open at Grand Prairie, before hosting Terrell and Irving Nimitz. After a road trip to Midlothian, they begin district play Sept. 26 against Birdville school district rival Richland.

Quotable: “[The transition to a new job] has been really good. The school district has been great. They let me bring in a couple coaches in the spring with me, so we were able to have spring football. With the new schemes, that made things a little easier.” — coach Jason Tucker

“The coaches have a really good attitude about the new district. When we heard the schedule, we just said ‘Bring it on.’ ” — linebacker Joseph Banks

Notable: Despite limited success in recent years, Haltom has produced a handful of next-level prospects, including TCU offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Central Arkansas receiver Roman Gordon. But the most notable would have to be Lance Dunbar, who after a college career at North Texas has worked his way into the No. 2 running back role for the Dallas Cowboys.