Written by Corbett Smith
Springing into action: Dallas-area 5A, 4A football teams seek answers during spring practice
It’s an easy equation for area football coaches: Take the number of spots on offense and defense, and subtract the number of returning starters.
The number that’s left — those are all question marks, and that’s what coaches will look to answer in the coming weeks.
Spring practice has already started for some Class 5A and 4A programs around the area. Others in the state’s largest two classes will kick off in the next few weeks, with the practices culminating with intersquad scrimmages in mid-to-late May.
“The starters we have coming back, they’ll get limited reps,” said coach John Walsh, of defending 4A champion Denton Guyer. “We know what they can do. The other guys, we want to see how they compete.”
Now is the time for players caught in position battles to separate from the pack.
For established programs, with a huge pool of reserves and sub-varsity players to choose from, the spring might just be for talent evaluation. Coaches trying to gain traction in struggling programs might be tasked to utilize their best players while masking their deficiencies. For new coaches, now’s the time to kick the tires on their new teams.
Here are questions some programs are facing:
Can Allen and Denton Guyer repeat as state champions?
Expectations for perennial powers Allen and Denton Guyer are always high. Considering that both programs won state titles in 2012 — Allen in 5A Division I, Guyer in 4A Division I — and both return dynamic quarterbacks, those sky-high title hopes will be through the stratosphere.
“They’re always going to be up there,” Allen coach Tom Westerberg said. “It’s going to be crazy.”
Only three offensive starters return for Allen, but one of them is quarterback phenom Kyler Murray. Murray won’t get much action in the spring. He is currently leading the baseball team in batting average and steals. But it’s not as if he needs the work, passing for 2,004 yards and rushing for 25 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. For Guyer, Texas pledge Jerrod Heard will be back for his senior season, after an astounding seven-touchdown performance in the 4A Division I title game against Georgetown.
As scary as the return of Murray and Heard are for opponents, Allen and Guyer return more starters on defense. Allen has six back, including the linebacker duo of Christian Sam and Tay Evans; Guyer has seven defensive players returning.
“I think we’ve done a good job in our program of putting 2012 in the vault, and moving on to 2013,” Walsh said.
Can area programs replace their top quarterbacks?
The list of schools needing to replace productive quarterbacks is a who’s who of successful programs from 2012: Southlake Carroll, Skyline, Coppell, Cedar Hill, Colleyville Heritage, Mesquite, Lancaster, Frisco Centennial, Birdville, Prosper and Mesquite Poteet.
Many of those quarterbacks — such as Skyline’s Devante Kincaid, Centennial’s Lamar Jordan and Poteet’s Tanner Ramsey — were multi-year starters and multi-faceted performers, leading their teams on the ground as much as in the air.
“Tanner was our quarterback and our fullback,” Poteet coach Randy Jackson said. “When we were playing somebody good, I knew I could count on him to get 15 carries. Not only that, but he was such an emotional leader for our kids. He’s a big loss. In my three years here, it’s been Beau [Nowell] or Tanner. There’s some long shadows cast by those two guys.”
What’s DeSoto without Dontre?
When Dontre Wilson — SportsDay’s offensive player of the year — touched the ball out of DeSoto’s backfield, opposing coaches stood in fear on the sidelines. Wilson, who signed with Ohio State, was a catalyst for DeSoto’s high-powered offense, scoring 48 total touchdowns last season on rushes, receptions and returns.
“He’s going to be very difficult to replace, I can tell you that,” DeSoto coach Claude Mathis said. “One guy isn’t going to be able to do it; we’ll have to by committee.”
Three running backs will be in that role: Jatory Sparks-Brown, Jaimon Peterson and Larry Nixon.
Mathis was sanguine about the loss, grown accustomed to graduating high-profile players — such as Darius Terrell and Marcus Murphy. It helps that star quarterback Desmon White will be back for his senior season, and that offensive coordinator Todd Peterman is one of the best in the business. DeSoto has averaged nearly 500 yards per game over the past four seasons.
What’s the ceiling for Plano West?
Not since the days of Rex Burkhead has a Plano ISD school been on a state-wide stage like Plano West. Such lofty expectations are fine with coach Mike Hughes.
“If you’re not confident, you’re not going to win a state championship,” Hughes said.
Plano West hit its stride midway through last season, using stellar offensive performances by quarterback Travis Korry and running backs Soso Jamabo and Auston Anderson to make a run to the 5A Division II regional final. Korry will be gone in 2013, but 1,000-yard rushers Jamabo and Anderson both return, as do three offensive linemen: Zach White, Cody Arledge and Chase Woods. Jamabo — a junior-to-be — is one of the area’s hottest football and basketball prospects, while senior-to-be Anderson has nearly 20 scholarship offers, recently picking up one from Texas.
“In all my years here, we never had that D-1 back,” Hughes said. “And now, we have two.”
Can young players help Euless Trinity?
It’s a new era for Euless Trinity football — opening a new indoor facility on May 5. But that doesn’t mean that Steve Lineweaver’s program is going to change its ways. Trinity will still rely on its power rushing game and stout defense to make its way in the 5A landscape that Lineweaver has used to perfection in his 13 seasons at the school.
But since the departure of do-everything Brandon Carter to TCU, Trinity hasn’t had that spark to get them past the area’s other elite teams.
“It’s hard to win games four yards at a time,” Lineweaver said.
Lineweaver pointed to two sophomores-to-be as potential playmakers: Tyler Natee (6-0, 210) and Ja’Ron Wilson (5-11, 175). As a freshman, Wilson is a member of Trinity’s regional qualifying 4x100 relay team.
Trinity will also look to replace its quarterback, using the spring to hash out a three-way race among Christian Hammack, To’a Maumau and Deion Guignard.
Without Hill, can Southlake Carroll contend?
Kenny Hill was a tour de force for Southlake Carroll at quarterback, leading his team for three seasons and helping them to a 2011 state title. But in its two-decade run of success, Carroll has grown accustomed to replacing irreplaceable quarterbacks.
“It’s always difficult, but we’ve always been blessed with some great quarterbacks,” Carroll coach Hal Wasson said.
With Carroll running roughshod over its district opponents, junior-to-be Ryan Agnew got plenty of second-half snaps last season, passing for 575 yards and four touchdowns while rushing 71 times for 492 yards and 10 scores.
With Agnew, returning running back A.J. Ezzard and a cadre of wide receivers back in the fold, Wasson said he expects his offensive skill players to not miss a beat.
Carroll’s offensive line is a question at this point, with four spots open for competition. Its defense returns six starters.
Can Webb do for Rockwall what he did at Mesquite Horn?
With five straight Class 5A playoff appearances at Mesquite Horn, coach Rodney Webb proved he was one of the better coaches in North Texas. He raised a lot of eyebrows when he left a pretty solid Horn nucleus — including quarterback Destri White — to replace Scott Smith in a rebuilding Rockwall program (Mike Overton swooped in from West Mesquite to fill Webb’s vacancy).
Webb said that reasons for his choice were two-fold: he has ties to the community — living in Rockwall, with his wife and daughter working and attending Rockwall High School — and he believes that the job is a great opportunity.
“I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t feel like I could have success,” Webb said.
Rockwall was 3-7 last season, but returns 10 starters, including running back Chris Warren and linebackers Josh Rippy and Chris Hinckley. As a sophomore last season, Warren rushed for 1,059 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“He has a chance to be very special,” Webb said.
Will Carter get past the third round of the playoffs?
After missing the playoffs in 2011, Carter bounced back last season to finish in a three-way tie for first with South Oak Cliff and Kimball in 11-4A.
Now, Carter coach Patrick Williams is hoping to take the next step.
With a deep pool of talented players to choose from, Carter should be one of the best teams in Dallas ISD. Linebacker Cameron Hampton (6-2, 205) has orally committed to Texas; running back/receiver Corey Avery (5-10, 180) led the team with 20 touchdowns last season, and holds offers from West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Texas Tech.
“Our goal is to go beyond the third round,” Williams said. “We always want to be playing on and past Thanksgiving.”
Carter is the last DISD team to advance past the second round in the 4A playoffs, beating Richardson Pearce in the second round in 2008 before falling to Longview in the third round.