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Corpus Christi Caller-Times
The road back for the Premont football program was filled with smooth patches and bumps each day as it worked its way back to the varsity level, and with homecoming this Friday, the school and community are close to feeling whole again.
Seven years ago the school dropped its football program as the district's academic rating was so low there was talk of the state shutting the district down completely. As the school focused on academics, the football program and other athletics were sacrificed.
It was a statewide story because a small-town high school football team is how communities are tied together in every corner of the state.
Junior high football returned two years ago and this is the school's first varsity season since 2011, and with it comes homecoming. There have been other homecoming celebrations at the school during basketball season but doing it during football season is the one everybody wanted to see.
"We've done (homecoming) in basketball the last six years but homecoming is supposed to be during football season," said Premont head football coach Ruben Cantu. "Getting that back is huge. The alumni and the people from the community that are from here, that's how everybody wants to have it."
Cantu said this week has had the stress of a homecoming as parades are planned along with pep rallies, and daily dress-up days at the school. But it is a good stress because the feeling of homecoming around football has not been felt in seven years.
The school district invested in new athletic facilities, including a new turf field that was used last week as a neutral site for a rescheduled game, and it is shining academically as it makes its way back.
Superintendent Steve Van Matre filled his Facebook page with photos of the construction this summer of the new football stadium but he also highlighted the school district being part of a unique rural school district initiative that is helping students receive college credit during high school.
He said that of the 153 students in the high school, 120 are attending an early college program such as the medical academy in Freer or welding in Hebbronville.
Van Matre said homecoming this week has shown a community pride and spirit that has him excited.
"I've done this a long time and been involved in some successful schools and been associated with a lot of winning football teams whether as a coach, principal or superintendent but I've never enjoyed anything as much as what I'm enjoying now," Van Matre said. "The faces that will be ingrained in my memory forever of those kids playing in that first game. We had a community pep rally (the day before) and there were fathers with their 5-year old sons and daughters on the field and you can only imagine what they were talking about. It gave me chills."
The Cowboys are 0-2 this season and coming off a week where their game was canceled because of travel concerns, but the outcome of this week's game against Harlingen Marine Military Academy is not as important as what a return to homecoming represents for the community.
"I want them to coach the kids hard, do it the right way and build this for the long term versus sacrificing community standards and ethics," Van Matre said. "As much as I like to win, what our win-loss record we will be this year this is something bigger than the 2018 season."
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