By Rick Sheek
It’s a new year, and in Mountain City there is a new outlook for the high school’s football team.
That winless campaign of last fall is forgotten with those involved.
“We had as good a spring practice as we’ve ever had,” Johnson County coach Mike Atwood said on Wednesday. “We’ve got new kids. We were young last year, and I hope we didn’t hurt the younger boys too bad going through that year.
“It was a tough year. I think we’ll play a lot better this year.”
Warren Kerley was forced under center due to injury last season, as a freshman. He played out the campaign and has earned the right to be the starting quarterback, although there is depth there with Lucas Henson and Chase Kleine.
“Right now Kerley is probably going to be our quarterback,” Atwood said. “Lucas Henson is a junior and we still have Chase on the roster, but we feel like we’d be wasting him at quarterback. So we’re going to play him at different positions, tight end and defensive end. He’s too good an athlete not to play.”
The backfield lined up behind the QB looks solid. Patrick South rushed for more than 850 yards last fall at tailback.
“He’ll be our main ball carrier, along with (fullback) Luke Poteet,” Atwood said. “Jordan Grubb had a good year on the freshman team, and ended up playing some on the varsity. So we’ll have some running backs back there with a little bit of experience.”
The coach mentioned strapping junior lineman David Eller, at 6-foot-2 and 298 pounds, was the most impressive standout of the recent drills.
“The most impressive player we had in the spring was David Eller,” Atwood said. “He’s gotten stronger. He was real young last year and had to play.
“We had to throw him in there, and he wasn’t ready. This year I think he’ll do all right.”
The coach believes Johnson County’s offensive line is the strength of this bunch.
“I feel like that will be our stronger point, the offensive and defensive lines both,” Atwood said. “We had a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. Eller really looked impressive in the spring on both sides of the ball, and then Conner Icenhour comes back for us at guard on offense and defensive tackle.”
The offensive tackles are Christian Peel and Scotty Tester. The five guys up front average over 250 pounds.
“We’ve really got a bunch of new linemen, but they got to play a lot because we had to use them in varsity games,” Atwood said. “We feel like we can put fairly a big line in there when we need to. We haven’t done that in awhile.”
The primary pass catchers at the maroon-white scrimmage were Kleine at tight end and River Cazire at wide receiver.
“He’ll help us,” Atwood said of Cazire. “We looked to him on a limited basis last year. He makes plays outside.”
The offensive line doubles on defense. The linebackers are Daniel Lester, a two-year starter who sat out last season due to injury, and Seth Little – who has been shifted from tackle, due to the abundance of talent at that position.
The linebackers each weigh more than 200 pounds.
“The defensive line is going to be good,” Atwood said. “We’ll be fairly big defensively. Both the boys move pretty good.”
The coach said the best performer in the secondary was strong safety Kenny Bell. Also looking good are free safety Jimmy Morefield and Cazire at cornerback.
“We’re looking for the younger guys to mature a little bit, and make, plays,” Atwood said. “We just didn’t make the plays last year.”
Ryan Mahala, busy during spring practice with the highlysuccessful baseball team, will be the kicker and punter. He’ll also contribute on offense, at tight end and receiver.
“We had to change the whole atmosphere,” Atwood said. “It’s easy to be complacent. We just really buckled down.
“We went old school. We really focused on discipline.”
The coach stresses this will be a different bunch of Longhorns who take the field in August at McEwen Stadium.
“We just had a great spring,” Atwood said. “We just had to change the every way we did everything. It’s just the last couple of years we got in a rut. I wasn’t sure how the kids were going to respond, but they all did really well.”