The Jim Ned football team will begin the season with a bullseye on its back. The Indians are the defending Class 3A Division I state champions and enter the 2021 campaign as the preseason No. 1-ranked team in the state.
Coach Matt Fanning’s club, which won the District 3-3A Division I title with a 5-0 mark, lost its season opener a year ago before reeling off 14 straight wins to claim the school’s first state championship. And Jim Ned brings back plenty of experience from last year’s team, including seven starters on both offense and defense.
Leading the way is RB/LB Xavier Wishert, the Class 3A Offensive Player of the Year and an Associated Press first team all-state selection. Wishert rushed for 2,330 yards and 33 touchdowns last year and led the team with 109 tackles.
Other key returnees on defense include all-state LB Tanner Hussman, LB Sergio Hernandez (3 INTs), WR/S Troy Doran and FB/LB David Rodriguez.
All-state OL Gatlyn Cooper (52 tackles, 3 sacks) will also play on the defensive line. Another all-state OL Gage Stanaland will play defensive end this fall, too. All-state OL Connor Fitzgerald and OT Nate Nunez are back on the offensive line as well.
QB Tate Yardley (130-218-1,904, 19 TDs passing) returns to direct the Indians’ offense. He threw the winning two-point conversion pass in Jim Ned’s thrilling 29-28 overtime win over Hallettsville in the state championship game. WR Braden Lewis (25-461, 4 TDs receiving) will be Yardley’s favorite target.
Fanning said all-state punter Blaine Palmer will also contribute more this year at WR and DB.