DALLAS — Last year, the first under head coach Andy Jackson, the culture for the Dallas Dragons football team was about raising expectations of performance on and off the field.

This year will be about fulfilling them.

“Raising your overall expectations of what you are going to get out of your life — what is that you are trying to do?” Jackson said while giving a presentation to Dallas Rotary on Aug. 20. “How are you trying to improve as a man? How are you trying to improve as a teammate? Those were the things we were really focused on in year one.”

He said in 2018, the program — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams — won six more games than the year before. The overall grade-point average improved from 2.5 to 2.9.

“We would like to get to above 3.0 to an all-state academic team,” Jackson said. “That’s the direction we are going. We know if we are taking care of business in the classroom, that’s going to carry over to the field. That’s going to carry over to our personal life.”

The team raised $30,000 in fundraisers to pay for equipment — including new helmets — and scholarships.

“Which was a huge improvement from the years before,” he said. “There’s small things happening here and there that we are excited about as far as the direction that the kids are going.”

Jackson said the varsity team (2-7 overall in 2018) fell short of its goal of making it to the playoffs while playing on the road most of the season as Dallas High School’s turf field was completed.

“Our first six games were on the road. If you guys have been around Dallas a long time, you know the conference that we’re in. Every week you are going to be playing a top-notch team,” Jackson said. “Whether that’s Silverton, West Albany, Corvallis — these are all teams at the top of the state.”

He said even with the cards stacked against Dallas, the team made a good showing.

“We lost two games by one point, and the other one by six when we were stopped at the goal line at Corvallis as time expired,” Jackson said. “We were one yard from figuring out a way to get out of the that one.”

This season, the situation will be flipped.

“We have the opportunity to host seven games at home,” Jackson said.

He said most of last year’s team has returned, and they remember those close losses.

“The beautiful thing about that is the adversity we faced last year as a group, and that growth we made, you’re really starting to see it right now because that team, for the most part, is all back,” Jackson said. “Going into year two, we are in the second year of our offense and we are running the same defense we ran when I was an assistant. You can see that carryover right now in the group.”

He said that people are welcome to observe practice to see for themselves, even with construction on the track underway. The team’s first action against another team, though not an official game, is at Friday’s jamboree at Gallaspy Stadium, starting with junior varsity at 5 p.m. and varsity at 7 p.m.

“You are going to see a seasoned football team that is really going to make this community proud,” Jackson said.

He also addressed the looming concerns of player safety, especially involving head injuries, and the increasing expense to play.

He said Dallas has largely avoided the decrease in participation due to the danger of head injuries that other high school programs in Dallas’ league have seen, but said football as a whole will deal with that issue for the foreseeable future.

Jackson estimates the sport is losing players because the cost to play is too expensive for some families, even when scholarships are available.

Part of that is because of safety measures.

“A lot of our fundraising is on helmets and shoulder pads to get top-of-the-line stuff, because I don’t want to look a mother in the eye and tell her, ‘Hey, we are going to send your kids out there to play a physical sport in something that’s not safe,’” Jackson said.

He said it costs $405 for the best helmet. Dallas purchased enough of those helmets to give to players who suffered head injuries in the past, but has a ways to go to put all players in those helmets.

“That is for sure something that, if you look at the future of football, there are some risks there,” Jackson said. “I believe the sport is a phenomenal sport for raising men and working through adversity, and the lessons you can learn working as a team and all that, but there are some risks there, 100 percent.”

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