TYLER, Texas (KETK) — The rosters and coaching staffs are always changing, but rivalries are forever.
This football season, the Kilgore College Rangers and the TJC Apaches, will have new head coaches.
In 2018, the Rangers took home the top prize in the Southwestern Junior College Football Conference, and after 12 seasons, coach J.J. Eckert left, to take over Northeastern State.
But his successor, Willie Gooden, has been part of the Ranger family since 2000, and worked his way up from a walk-on player, to now the head coach.
“It’s an emotional situation when you coach under a guy for 12 years, and then that guy, you coached under for 12 years you actually played for his dad, and you played for him,” said Gooden. “I mean, we’re family.”
In Tyler, after 13 years, Danny Palmer, a man who has the Rose City in his blood, stepped down as TJC’s head coach.
When Thomas Rocco was promoted, Palmer had some words of wisdom for the new Apache leader.
“He told me after the press conference, last year when they announced me as head coach, ‘Now you got to go win some games,'” said Rocco.
Few games are as important as the annual double header between these two East Texas rivals.
“You could replace me with anyone, and Rocco with anyone, and that rivalry will still be there man, it’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears wrapped up in that rivalry game,” said Gooden.
“We have to play those guys twice a year, and any time you see them, it’s gonna be a battle,” said Rocco. “Those guys are tough, they are defending champs in the league, so that game means a lot.”
Two of the best to ever lead their squads in this Highway 31 grudge match have moved on, but a rivalry like this, in an area like East Texas, when you add a little bit new blood, it just helps kick it into another gear.
“I’m way too fired up, very excited, and it’s coming from our kids, their own confidence level, their preparation we’re all excited,” said Rocco.
“Awesome experience man, so excited that we’re this close to football season and just can’t wait to get it kicked off, and to just be here, and be at the forefront and represent Kilgore College,” said Gooden.
The next chapter in this rivalry will open the 2019 season at R.E. Saint John Stadium in Kilgore, on August 24th.