Thackerville has a new head coach this year as Mark Barrett takes over, but he’s a familiar face. He’s been an assistant for the Wildcats the past two seasons.

“He’s like our grandfather," Thackerville left guard Nathan Pearson said. "He just comes in and helps us with whatever we need. He’s great.”

Last season, Thackerville broke through with its first playoff win in eight years. It’s a victory that was a big boost for the program.

“We’re a confident football team now," Barrett said. "We expect to win a football game when we step off the bus. It’s been awhile since this program has had that expectancy put on them.”

Thackerville returns seven starters on each side of the ball, including its offensive leader quarterback Justice Rodriguez.

“Justice is like having another coach on the field," Barrett said. "He has a good football mind. He sees. He has a vision. He knows when we call a play that if it’s not there, he can audible out of it. We've given him the green light to do that. Most of the time, he’s on the money.”

And Barrett has that same belief in his defense.

“I’m confident we could go line up right now and play against anything and whatever they throw at us, our kids can make the adjustments on defense because they’ve got three years in that system under their belts,” Barrett said. 

Another key to Thackerville's success?

“It's the mentality to go out there and do what you have to do like a job," senior running back/linebacker Aziz Hernandez said.

But even as expectations rise around the program, Thackerville’s players aren’t feeling pressure. They’re just excited to take the field this fall.

“Go play. Be yourself," Pearson said. "You’re going to make mistakes so you might as well make as many good plays as you can and keep down the bad plays."

Thackerville will open its 2023 season on the road on August 24 when it takes on Wilson.