CAPTION: Hill Country Elite head coach Ray Gurley (standing, right) speaks to the players before they break into group drills. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro
The summer season has a few more stops before members of the Hill County Elite football team can enjoy the final weeks before the 2023-24 school year begins.
The Elite is a team of 29 players from Burnet, Fredericksburg, Liberty Hill and Marble Falls for ages 11-13.
Head coach Ray Gurley of Burnet and the 10 assistant coaches started the team in 2022 for one reason.
“We want kids to have the experience and enjoy it,” Gurley said.
Athletes from Burnet include Haiden Allen, Jordan Depaz, Edgar Duran, Gabe Gurley, Jayden Heffington, Ethan Sanchez and Roswell Vargas, Jr., who is the son of assistant coach Roswell Vargas, Sr.
The Marble Falls players are Diego Aguilar, Quincy Rodriguez and Timmy Salinas. Joaquin Aguilar and Rey Salinas are two other assistant coaches living in Marble Falls.
Those from Liberty Hill include Richard Downing, Rylee Downing, Cannon Fitts, Owen Green, Wesley Hardin, Lucas Harritt, Josh Howard, Mason Parsons, Alexander Quintero, Benjamin Rawlins and Sean Wade. Assistant coaches Jesse Quintero and Mike Wade live in Liberty Hill.
Athletes from Fredericksburg are Lyosha Bedford, Christian Bermudez, Javien Hernandez, Eli King, Leo Lindo, Jaxon Meyer, Angel Ramirez and Ruger Tekulve, the son of assistant coach Matt Tekulve.
In 2022, Burnet County youth coaches wondered how a squad made up of athletes from each town would perform. And then they went about making it happen, Gurley said.
“It was towards the end of the season, and there were all these sixth-graders,” he said, noting they were about to age out of youth football. “We started looking and saw there’s tournament ball that goes on in other cities. We tried it out in the winter. It’s real similar to select basketball and select baseball. We modified it to do winter and summer.”
That means the Elite don’t play during the junior high season. For those players, they simply can’t get enough football, Gurley said. The Elite offers them to chance to play a little longer.
During the last several months, the team’s reputation has grown. And that compelled players from other counties to come here to play. The Elite is using Britton Field at Faith Academy of Marble Falls and the multi-recreational complex at the Granite Shoals City Hall as its practice fields.
Gurley and the coaching staff met with head coach Brian Herman of Marble Falls and Bryan Wood of Burnet before the Elite took the field earlier this year to outline their vision, their why and to ensure them they aren’t trying to take players from their school district athletic departments.
“We’re trying not to conflict,” Gurley said. “We told them we’d like to run what they run. We tell players that what you learn here is the bonus; what you learn there is the rule.”
So coaches devised a version of the Fredericksburg defense and versions of the Burnet, Liberty Hill and Marble Falls offenses.
“It’s taken off strongly,” Gurley said.
The team has been practicing for three upcoming tournaments. The first is at the Second Annual D1 Oklahoma Shootout July 22-23 at Love Hatbox Sports Complex in Muskogee. After that is the Who Want Smoke 6 Aug. 5-6 at McCown Park in DeSoto. The last event is the Central Texas Showdown Aug. 11-13 in San Antonio.
Some tournaments are double elimination, while others guarantee three contests in a weekend.
Gurley said coaches added up the costs of the uniforms, equipment and entry fees and divided it up by the number of players on the team. Sponsors will donate, which helps lessen the costs.
After the summer season ends, the Elite won’t play again until November starting with video calls with the players and coaches where the athletes will begin to learn the playbook.
For more search for Hill Country Elite on Facebook.
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CAPTION: Elite players Josh Howard (left), Timmy Salinas, Diego Aguilar and Leo Lindo stretch before starting practice at Britton Field at Faith Academy of Marble Falls. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro