RUSK, Texas (KETK) – Many around East Texas are well aware of the success that Coach Thomas Sitton had with the Chapel Hill Bulldogs, leading them to back to back state championship game appearances and the 2011 3A Division 1 title.
This spring he returned to the Piney Woods to become the head football coach and athletics director at Rusk.
But due to the COVID-19 shutdown, he hardly had an opportunity to get to know his new team.
Now into the second week of summer strength and conditioning, that process is finally under way.
“He gets us all pumped up, intense, ready to go, ready to be back on the field. He’s a good coach, hard working wants us to be up here, keeps us going,” said Eagles senior running back and linebacker Alex Jones.
He adds the Sitton brings the right type of intensity.
Hired in February after three years as the defensive coordinator at Converse Judson in the San Antonio area, Sitton was on the job in Rusk for a week and a half before the COVID-19 hiatus started. That’s why being back working out together, is extremely valuable for his bunch.
“It’s huge for us. Just us getting to know the kids, and know who they are, and them getting to know us has been, it’s been so much fun these past two weeks,” said Sitton.
Sitton admits they’ve had to start from ground zero as he lays down the foundation for his new program.
“Our goal is to, you know, build them up, and then, you know, August third, you know, they are in the best shapes of their lives. And they understand what we’re saying on offense, defense, and the kicking game. And start to understand how we’re gonna play, how Rusk Eagle football is gonna look,” said Sitton.
Knowing what to look for to build a championship caliber team, Sitton is already seeing some ingredients, and the right type of attitude in Rusk.
The Eagles have been unable to capitalize on high expectations the last two years after their 9-3 area round playoff squad in 2017. Although they did rebound from rough starts in both 2018, and 2019 to make the playoffs both times under former coach Jowell Hancock. That included a 4-0 district championship run in 2018 before falling in round two of the postseason for the second straight year.
“Talking, getting together, being together, being as a team, not individual, working on your own,” explained Jones.
“They’ve got a lot of heart. They are very hungry to win. They are very hungry to get better every day. You could see that in their eyes when you’re coaching them. You know they are really locked in on you. They are really focused. And you can tell, they want to find a way to get better. I just know that’s gonna help us get exactly where we want to go,” said Sitton.
And with four East Texas schools having had to stop at least part of their workouts this week due to positive Coronavirus cases, Sitton and his staff are using plenty of caution in order to stay safe.
“We don’t want to end up like some of the schools that we’ve heard of that’s had to completely shut down. Cuz I feel like our backs against the wall a little bit here just because everything is so brand new for them. So it’s a constant reminder to them. And we’re praying to the Good Lord above that it doesn’t hit any of our kids,” stressed Sitton.
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Sitton coached Chapel Hill from 2009-16 and had a 56-41 record with the Bulldogs.
Sitton’s other coaching stops in his career are Lake Worth, Alto, Jacksonville and New Braunfels.