The lowdown on the Tarleton Texan 2021 football season
By: Cody Vannoy
Summer is over and students are coming back to Stephenville for a brand-new academic school year. While you may struggle during the week with mounds of homework assignments, quizzes and tests, you can always look forward to the weekend and Texan football games on Saturdays. While the coronavirus pushed the Texans’ inaugural Division I (DI) season to the spring of 2021, the team’s schedule will return to the traditional format this upcoming fall for their first football season in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). On July 1, 2021, Tarleton State University welcomed Stephen F. Austin, Lamar University, Sam Houston State, Abilene Christian University and Central Arkansas as official members of the WAC.
The 2020 Texans football team finished with a record of 5-3 in their inaugural DI season and the 2021 squad will be looking for a 1-0 start as they open their season and WAC play when they travel to Nacogdoches, Texas on Sept. 4 to face Stephen F. Austin. The Texans’ first game at Memorial Stadium this fall will be the following weekend on Sept. 11 versus Fort Lewis. On Sept. 18, the Texans will then travel to Arlington, Texas to play Southern Utah at the Texas Ranger’s former home known as Globe Life Park. The Texans will be considered the home team. The next weekend of the 25, the Texans will play at Memorial Stadium against New Mexico Highlands. Then, on Oct. 2, the team will travel to Richmond, Kentucky to play Eastern Kentucky. While the Texans have a bye the following weekend, they are right back into action on Oct. 16 in St. George, Utah to face Dixie State. Tarleton will then come back home for three straight weekends, as they will play Midwestern State on Oct. 23, Sam Houston State on Oct. 30, and Lamar on Nov. 6. The team will play their final road game of the year on Nov. 13, in Abilene, Texas against Abilene Christian. The Texans will end their season at home with Central Arkansas on Nov. 20.
“It will hands-down be the toughest schedule we have ever had,” Head Football Coach Todd Whitten explained. “I don’t know how many games we can win, but we will compete very well.”
Since it is Tarleton’s second year at the DI level, they will be unable to participate in the postseason this fall.
Players to Watch
On the offensive side of the ball, be on the lookout for wide receiver Tariq Bitson and offensive lineman Zach Perry. Bitson is the team’s leading receiver from a year ago where he had 43 receptions on 614 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Perry returns as a leader on the offensive line where in 2020, the line was just called on five holding penalties and only allowing 1.38 sacks per game. Both players were named to the 2021 Preseason All-WAC Teams. Also, be on the lookout for the returning tandem of quarterback, Steven Duncan and running back, Ryheem Skinner.
On the defensive side of the ball, look out for defensive back Devin Hafford and linebacker Ronnell Wilson. Wilson was the team’s leading tackler on the 2020 team with 76 total tackles and 33 of them being solo. He also had ten tackles for loss, two sacks and three forced fumbles. Hafford will be moving to the safety position for this upcoming season.
“I actually safety in high school,” said Hafford. “You have to know everybody’s job really on the field. So, the transition has been a learning experience.”
Both defensive stars were named to the 2021 Preseason All-WAC Teams.
Why Should You Be Excited?
“Our student body is really like no other,” Whitten said. “And I have coached all around. Our students show up in full force.”
Additionally, in typical Texas fashion, most of the games that are in the fall will be quite warm. More than likely, the games will not start to get chilly until November. Lastly, Whitten is fired up for this upcoming season. While it may not be a surprise to hear that a college head coach is excited about the upcoming football season, Whitten seems eagerly excited about how his players have been carrying themselves. He has reminded people that he was disappointed with how the team finished last year and how he wanted to fix the inconsistencies in the offense from a year ago. This has led Whitten in developing a culture where his team plays for the guy next to him rather than for himself.
“I want these guys to play for one another and we talk about how difficult it is,” Whitten stated. “It is something that you have to be conscious of and real deliberate on how you go about adding new guys and making them feel welcome.”
So, whether you are a faculty member, a graduate student or a fresh-faced freshman, go out and support the Tarleton Texan football team.