Written by Brandon George
George: Mansfield leaves 1-9 season behind, but not with wholesale changes
MANSFIELD - Watching Mansfield football coach Jeff Hulme rip off his hat and fire it to the ground in practice earlier this week and yell, "Do it again," you begin to realize his tenacity for not accepting mediocrity.
Certainly, Hulme's stubbornness has paid huge dividends for the Tigers this season.
After Mansfield lost its last nine games in 2009 to finish 1-9, Hulme could have overhauled the program. He could have trashed his I-formation offense and 4-3 defense - both schemes of the past - for the trendy spread attack and 3-4 alignment.
Instead, Hulme stuck to the offense and defense that have made him a successful coach. The result has been sparkling, with the Tigers 3-0 heading into their District 5-5A opener tonight against rival Mansfield Timberview.
"Anytime you go through a season like we did last year, you look at everything. You analyze, 'What'd we do? What'd we do?' " Hulme said. "But we didn't change a whole lot."
Instead, the Tigers have relied on healthy senior running back Damon Bullock, a rising star recruit in junior defensive end Hassan Ridgeway and a shot of energy from seven sophomores starting on a team that returned only four starters.
Bullock broke his collarbone in the third game last season and missed the rest of the year, depleting an offense that was already trying to replace standout running back Stepfan Taylor. In 2008, Hulme's first season at Mansfield after leaving Fort Bend Clements, Taylor (now at Stanford) rushed for 2,463 yards and 33 touchdowns to lead the Tigers to an 8-5 record.
With Bullock out last year, George Baltimore ended up leading the Tigers in rushing with 443 yards. Through three games this season, Bullock already has 488 rushing yards. Last season, the Tigers' leading scorer was Nick Cheesman with five touchdowns. Bullock already has 11 touchdowns this year. Mansfield scored 22 touchdowns all last season but already has 20 through three games this year.
The versatility of junior starting quarterback Jerod Evans has helped the Tigers' offense this season. He's allowed Mansfield to line up in the shotgun more because of his ability to accurately pass the football and run when a play breaks down.
Certainly, the I-formation isn't hurting the Tigers' production compared with most teams that run the spread.
Mansfield ranks third in the area in scoring offense at 47 points per game after averaging only 15.7 a year ago.
"We have a lot more team chemistry than we did last year," Bullock said. "There were a lot of different groups on our team last year, and this year we're doing this together, playing as one. That's been a big change. The main thing is attitude."
Part of that "attitude" change came with a more aggressive defense. Hulme and his coaching staff took a trip to Round Rock in the spring to observe Stony Point's successful program. Hulme returned and tweaked his defense, simplifying players' reads up front to allow the Tigers to be more aggressive. The difference? Last season, Mansfield's turnover ratio was minus-8. This season, it's a plus-6.
"And we're way faster this year on defense," Mansfield defensive tackle Matt Hardy said. "Everybody wants to run to the football. We have this defensive motto of 'We Eat Nation.' It just means we're going to eat up the competition because we're hungry to win."
A player who has certainly excelled this season is Ridgeway, who played tight end last season. The 6-5, 235-pound Ridgeway is starting at defensive end this year and has a frame that's college-ready despite being only 15 years old.
Ridgeway, also a good basketball player, flew under the radar in recruiting but started gaining momentum once Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp visited a Mansfield spring practice to get a look at him.
Ridgeway is hard to miss. He has tree trunks for legs, wide shoulders and a large wingspan. Even when he kneels, he looks like a boulder. Let's just say that when the Tigers get off the bus for a game, the intimidating Ridgeway should always be the first to exit.
"They start shaking a little bit when they see him," Hardy said. "It's like, 'Wow.' "
Hardy and his teammates hope they can continue their wowing start so far.
"We want to prove something this year," Hardy said. "We want to go far. We were the first school in Mansfield, and we just feel like we have to say we're the best because we were first. We have to prove it to everybody."
So far, with a persistent Hulme leading the way, the Tigers have.
Mansfield is 3-0 after finishing 1-9 a year ago. Some key differences:
Season Record Avg. pts. scored Avg. pts. allowed Turnover differential TDs scored 2009 1-9 15.7 37.3 -8 22 2010 3-0 47.0 22.7 +6 20