AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — High school football is back! To football fans here on the High Plains, that is music to football starved ears. For Palo Duro High coaches and players, this season is even more special.

“It starts at the top. Coach (Eric) Mims brings that energy, and we feed off of him,” said Joseph Hawthorne, Offensive Line coach for PD. “He’s a guy who got me to believe enough where I uprooted my family and moved six hours away, all the way to Amarillo. Never been to West Texas, never been to the Panhandle, but I believe in his vision and what he’s doing. His energy is infectious and it’s carrying into the community.”

Since the arrival of PD alum Eric Mims at the head coaching position, the goal of the team, winning football games, has remained the same. But, under Mims’ leadership, the path in setting up a winning program has changed significantly.

“We’re trying to build strength, we’re trying to build speed,” Mims said. “If it was a race, only one person gets a gold medal, so we want to build our guys in a fashion where they’re faster, they’re stronger. By being faster and stronger, we’ll definitely get bigger. So focusing on the smaller things in the weight room, and the smaller things out here on the field, builds a better type of athlete.”

Players like Senior DB Micah Wesley, have taken note as well.

“Just how the coaches treat us, and how their goals have been set for us,” he said. “How they know we can be better and how good we can be.”

The Dons finished the 2020 season with a 2-7 record, going 2-4 in district play. They haven’t won more than four games since 2014. Turning the football program around isn’t the only thing Dons players and coaches are looking forward to in 2021, especially with COVID restrictions being lifted for fans at games.

“I’m excited for Friday night games, getting the community out, getting them here on campus together to watch these games and support these young men,” Hawthorne said. “I’ve seen first hand how winning football games is so much bigger than the sport. It strengthens communities, it brings people together in a way that’s just a lot of fun, so I’m looking forward to that.”

“It can run deep, it really can, it can build a sense of pride,” said former PD football player and north Amarillo resident IDarius Ray. “That just gives the community something to back and support, and it just kind of feeds into each other. It’s kind of transitional.”

Coach Mims seconds that.

“I like the fact that people are excited about Palo Duro football again, we’ve built some hype and some interest,” he said. “But the worst thing in the world is when you see previews of a movie, and the movie looks so amazing, and you get there and you’re disappointed, that’s why we work as hard as we do, that’s why I’m on my kids as hard as I am. Because I know the energy and the excitement in the community, and I don’t want to be that movie that people get to and halfway through they’re sleep, they’re playing on their phones, they’re disinterested.”

Add in the arrival of Palo Duro legend and 11-year NFL veteran Ziggy Hood to the coaching staff, and the community can barely contain the anticipation.