If there’s one word that Abilene High School head football coach Mike Fullen can’t stand, it’s “potential.” So when he’s asked about the prospects for the 2023 Eagles, he almost recoils when talking about this team’s possibilities for the season.
But with eight starters returning on offense and four on defense, along with 23 other returning lettermen, Fullen knows expectations are high for the Eagles in 2023.
“That word (potential) is a sin word in our program,” said Fullen, who led the Eagles to the playoffs for the third straight year in 2022. “The players coming up through our program have learned our schemes since the seventh grade. No matter who we’ve lost, our mentality is that it’s the next man up.”
While the Eagles have several standouts to replace on defense – most notably Class 5A honorable mention All-State linebacker Kenneth Johnson, along with defensive backs Noah Hatcher and Jayson Henley, and linebacker Andres Abril – Fullen’s expectations of his team haven’t changed: to compete for a district title, reach the playoffs, and be in a position to practice on Thanksgiving Day.
“If you’re practicing on Thanksgiving Day, you’ve entered the elite arena and put the team in position to compete for the ultimate goal, and that’s an opportunity to win a state championship,” Fullen said.
While the Eagles must replace several defensive standouts, their offense returns game-breaking talent at several spots, including quarterback and running back, with the return of quarterbacks Dylan Slack and Brayden Henry and running back Bam Rashaw. Slack started for most of the first half of the season, while Henry – who was a freshman in 2022 – started most of the back half of the season on his way to earning District 2-5A Division I Newcomer of the Year and All-Big Country Newcomer of the Year honors.
Henry threw for 368 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 435 yards and four touchdowns. He and Slack competed throughout the spring and summer for the starting spot, but both will play a big part in the Eagles’ offense. Rashaw will carry the load in the backfield after rushing for 1,060 yards and 13 touchdowns last season and earning second team all-district honors.
With three years left to play, Henry already has a football offer from Texas Tech and is listed as the No. 20 dual-threat quarterback in the country by QBHitList.com. He’s also listed as a top offensive player and track and field performer in the Class of 2026 by lonestarprep.rivals.com, and he could be one of the best soccer players in the state by the time he’s finished.
Seniors Jackson Howle, Breylon Badon, and Ryan Bradford are the core of the receiving group. At the same time, the offensive line returns juniors Shetonde Polepole (all-district) and Jerrod Turner, along with senior Boss Brake.
While the defense lost some key pieces, it also returns all-district, All-Big Country, honorable mention all-state linebacker Bryce Neves, all-district, All-Big Country defensive back Beckham Paul, all-district defensive ends Luke Fisher and Anthony Hernandez, and two-way players in tight end / defensive end Trey Simpson, and linebacker / running back Chad Lara.
The Eagles’ defense allowed 227 points in 13 games last season as the Warbirds made their way to the third round of the playoffs but gave up just 80 points in the team’s final seven games (11.4 per game).
While the Eagles finished 4-6 overall last year and 3-3 and fourth in a tough District 2-5A Division I race that includes Amarillo Tascosa, Amarillo High, and Lubbock Cooper, the Eagles were 2-1 in the playoffs with a 35-0 area-round win over Red Oak, a team that had beaten perennial powerhouse Denton Ryan the week before in the bi-district round of the playoffs.
The Eagles will kick off their season on Friday, Aug. 25, at 7 p.m. against Odessa Permian in Odessa. The Eagles and crosstown rival Cooper Cougars will face each other in the Crosstown Showdown on Sept. 1 at Shotwell Stadium before the Eagles host Midland Legacy the following week. AHS hosts district games against Tascosa (Homecoming on Sept. 29), Lubbock Cooper (Oct. 13), and Amarillo High (Oct. 27). The Eagles’ schedule is, no doubt, a tough one, but one Fullen believes his team is ready to tackle.
“We have a good core coming back on both sides of the ball that got valuable experience playing an extended season in 2022,” Fullen said. “We’re confident in the guys we have in 2023. We don’t base our season on themes; everything we do is ‘The Eagle Way.’ That pretty much sums up all our programs at Abilene High. When you play a team from Abilene High, you’re going to get one that is prepared to give you its very best and will do everything within the rules of the game to do so.”
2023 ABILENE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Coach (seasons as head coach / overall record): Mike Fullen (5th season / 22-23)
Last season (overall record, district record, district finish): 6-7 (3-3, 4th in District 2-5A Division I)
Last playoff appearance (year, result): 2022 (def. El Paso Del Valle, 42-14, in bi-district; def. Red Oak, 35-0, in area round; lost to Burleson Centennial, 24-14, in regional quarterfinals).
Last district championship (year): 2016 (6-0 in District 3-6A)
2023 District and Opponents:District 2-5A Division I (Amarillo Tascosa, Lubbock Cooper, Amarillo High, Lubbock Coronado, Lubbock Monterey, Amarillo Caprock)
Lettermen Returning / Lost: 35/29
Starters Returning: 8 offense, 4 defense
Top Returners (name, classification, position, 2022 honors): Bryce Neves, sr, LB (All-District, All-Big Country, Honorable mention All-State); Beckham Paul, DB (All-District, All-Big Country); Luke Fisher, sr, DE (All-District); Anthony Hernandez, sr, DE (All-District); Bam Rahsaw, sr, RB (All-District, All-Big Country); Brayden Henry, soph, QB (District Offensive Newcomer of the Year, Big Country Newcomer of the Year); Jackson Howle, sr, WR (All-District); Breylon Badon, sr, WR; Ryland Bradford, jr, WR; Dylan Slack, sr, QB (Honorable mention All-District); Trey Simpson, sr, TE/DE (All-District); Chad Lara, sr, LB/RB (All-District); Shetonde Polepole, jr, OL (All-District, All-Big Country); Boss Brake, sr, OL.
Top Newcomers (name, classification, position): Bryson Perez, jr, WR; Jim Boima, jr, OL; Jerrod Turner, jr, OL; Ethan Joyner, soph, RB; DeMarco Upshaw, sr, DB/WR; Tre Sharp, sr, DB.
- Coach Fullen on the 2023 season – “We’re looking to build off the success of the previous three years. We have been a playoff team for three consecutive years, and this year we’ll look to make it four straight appearances. We have a good nucleus of players returning on both sides of the ball. Our goal every year is to improve every week consistently. We don’t look ahead but stay in the moment and focus on the things we can control to be successful. Every year, we plan to put the best product on the field every week.”
2023 ABILENE HIGH SCHEDULE
Friday, Aug. 25 – at Odessa Permian, 7 p.m. (Ratliff Stadium)
Friday, Sept. 1 – at Cooper, 7 p.m. (CHS is home team; Shotwell Stadium)
Friday, Sept. 8 – vs. Midland Legacy, 7 p.m. (Shotwell Stadium)
Friday, Sept. 15 – at Frenship, 7 p.m. (Tiger Stadium)
* Friday, Sept. 22 – at Lubbock Monterey, 7 p.m. (Lowery Field at PlainsCapital Park)
* Friday, Sept. 29 – vs. Amarillo Tascosa, 7 p.m. (Shotwell Stadium)
* Friday, Oct. 6 – at Amarillo Caprock, 7 p.m. (Dick Bovines Stadium)
* Friday, Oct. 13 – vs. Lubbock Cooper, 7 p.m. (Shotwell Stadium)
* Friday, Oct. 20 – at Lubbock Coronado, 7 p.m. (Lowery Field at PlainsCapital Park)
* Friday, Oct. 27 – vs. Amarillo High, 7 p.m. (Shotwell Stadium)
* District 2-5A Division I game