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Van Horn Advocate |
Going from two to four wins in 1996 was easier than going from four to eight will be in 1997. But the Eagles' defense has shown improvement over last year in both their preseason scrimmages, while the offense was more effective in their final pre-season scrimmage this year than at any time since 1993, which was also Pecos' last non-losing season.
"After looking at the film, it turned out better than I thought," Belew said of Pecos' last preseason test against Greenwood. "The offensive line blocked well, the defense was aggressive and the backfield executed well, something we hadn't done in a long time.
"We've been working to improve there, and we still have some things to work on, but overall I'm real positive about the way we played," Belew said, "Coach (Greenwood's Bob) Purser made the comment that we were one of the most physical teams he scrimmaged in a while, so that's a positive sign, but we need to improve each week to compete in district."
The Eagles return 23 players off last year's 4-6 squad that was hampered by a lack of depth and an early season broken leg by No. 1 running back Ray Parada. Richard Gutierrez and Mark Abila wound up as the team's main rushers, but both were forced to play on offense and defense, which took its toll as the season wore on.
This year, Belew said he's hoping that Abila, an all-district selection at free safety, and Gutierrez will be able to get more rest.
"Mark's a great running back, but hopefully we'll be able to give him a little more rest. He was out there for almost every play last year, and I thought he was about to die, but he's too important to take out on defense," Belew said. "We're going to rest him with Lucio (Florez) and Hector (Garcia), which should make him a little more effective."
Florez had a 21-yard touchdown run and a 61-yard run in last week's scrimmage against Greenwood, and will be the Eagles' fastest back this year. Abila ran for 386 yards and one touchdown in 1996 and Gutierrez picked up 590 with three TD, while his backup, Jason Aguilar, ran for 385 yards and one score.
Gutierrez saw action at linebacker last season, but this timer around, Belew said, "We're hoping he'll come through and be our full-time fullback. Richard's still capable of playing defense, but right now we're counting on him carrying the load at the fullback position."
Along with their runners, the Eagles also return all three of their quarterbacks from last season in Jason Abila, Oscar Luna and Eric Aguilar. Abila handled almost all of the passing in 1996, going 42-for-119 for 576 yards with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
He lost his main receiver, Nufie Flores, to graduation, but gets back his primary touchdown target in wingback Moses Martinez. He had nine catches for 179 yards last season, with four of those going for scores. Martinez returns at wing, while Rudy Nunez takes Flores' flanker position.
Along with Martinez, Pecos also returns tight end Jose Contreras, who had three catches as a junior, though like Mark Abila, he'll be used mainly on defense, with Manuel Contreras as the starter. Jason Aguilar and Mark Abila each had four receptions out of the backfield last season, and the Eagles also used Jason Abila a couple of times last season at wide receiver as well. They did the same thing during this year's scrimmages, with he and Luna hooking up for an eight-yard touchdown against Greenwood.
Belew said during pre-season drills that the Eagles depth would be thinnest on the lines, though Pecos has several starters back from 1996.
On offense, Steve Harrison returns at strong tackle, while Jake Fowler moves from guard to tackle on the tight side of the field. Robert Cravey, a defensive starter a year ago, will also be starting at center this season, with Jeremy Thomasson and John Gutierrez as the strong and tight side guards.
On defense, Pecos' work against the run improved greatly last season when Contreras was shifted from linebacker to defensive, where he returns this season. Alonzo Valencia and Jason Aguilar will alternate at the other end position, while on the inside, Cravey returns at one tackle spot while T.J. Huffman moves in as a full-time starter at the other position.
At linebacker, B.J. Brack returns to fill one outside spot in the 4-3 defense after being brought up in midseason last year. John Gutierrez will be Pecos' starting middle linebacker and Chris Reyes will handle the other outside spot.
At cornerback the Eagles will have a number of choices, but will go with Nunez and Luna as starters. He and Reyes had interceptions in last week's scrimmage against Greenwood. The safeties will be the same as a year ago, with Mark Abila in the rover spot and Martinez at strong safety.
Pecos' kicking game will also remain the same, with Gutierrez handling both placekicking and punting duties, with Jason Aguilar as deep snapper. Jason Abila remains as the Eagles' backup placekicker.
The schedule this season is about as favorable as can be hoped for, though Pecos again begins with the top four-ranked teams in 4-4A play. The Eagles have only one trip over 100 miles this season, as opposed to four over 140 last fall, and get the teams picked to finish third and fourth in the preseason polls, San Angelo Lake View and Big Spring, at Eagle Stadium.
The polls also have the Eagles finishing last for the fourth straight year. They have yet to actually finish last, but they also haven't made the playoffs since 1975. Three wins in district would change that this year, and if Pecos can play the same way during the season as they did against Greenwood, their 22-year post-season drought could be over.
Erickson takes over as head coach from Michael Barrandey, who is taking on full-time administrative duties at Balmorhea High School this year. But the longtime coach didn't leave his former assistant with a cupboard that's bare. Instead, the Bears again appear to be loaded for bear, as they seek their fourth straight postseason trip.
The Bears won the District 8-A six man title in 1994, before losing by four points in the state semifinals to eventual champ Amherst. The past two seasons, Balmorhea has placed second, to Imperial and the Grandfalls, while advancing to the area round of the playoffs before falling to Southland, 60-52.
Most of the players of that squad are back this season, and the Bears are favored to recaputre the district title from the Cowboys. It's a prediciton Erickson sounded a lot more comfortable with after his team won their scrimmage last week over Brookesmith, which like the Bears is a preseason Top 10 pick.
"We're pretty well set. There are still some question marks, but we'll just have to play them to see who's going to be out there," Erickson said.
On offense, Balmorhea has four returing starters in senior quarterback Zane Rhyne, senior spread back Debiasie Mendoza, junior tailback Arturo Miranda and junior fullback Roger Lopez. Rhyne and Lopez were first team all-district selections in 1996, while Mendoza and Miranda were second team picks.
The Bears have some concern about Mendoza, who underwent knee surgery after basketball season. He missed most of the preseason for Balmorhea, but on Tuesday Erickson said "He's been cleared to play. We'll just work him slowly into the lineup."
Lopez gained 1,089 yards last season, while Mendoza and Miranda both surpassed the 600 yard mark, while Rhyne ran the offense from the snap, as well as handling the kicking, though as far as passing goes, in six-man he shared that duty with both Mendoza and Miranda.
The Bears will be looking to replace their main deep threat, Scott Clark, along with blocking end Ryan Steig, both all-district picks. Clark was also the team's center, and his brother, Ryan, along with Patrick Craven and Kriss Natividad are candates for that job. End candidates to replace Steig include senior Jeremiah Lozano and junior Melchor Avalos.
"In some cases, they (returning starters) will be moved around according to what we're doing," Erickson said. "I've kind of got it set in my mind, but we'll have to check in practice this week before deciding for sure."
Mnedoza, Miranda, Rhyne and Lopez also were all-district selections on defense a year ago, with the first three earning first-team honors at linebacker, cornerback and safety respectively, while Lopez was a second team tackle as a sophomore.
Balmorhea will be looking to replace Clark, a second team cornerback pick, while filling the other vacancy, at defensive end.
While it's way too early to start thinking about November, barring any further injuries, this is the best chance Balmorhea has to advance far into the playoffs since the Bears came from nowhere -- six straight losing seasons -- to within four points of the state finals in 1994.
Bears' fans will get six chances to see their team at home this season, including what is projected as the key game, on Oct. 3 against Grandfalls. They also will host Grandfalls, which along with Imperial and Dell City, figure to be the other squads vying for the two available post-season berths.
Grandfalls went through the regular season undefeated in 1996, before losing in the regional finals 30-28 to Chillicothe, to finish up with a 12-1 record. The Cowboys lost three all-district starters, but get back two-way all-district pick Roy Vasquez, who already has two TDs this season, in their 52-0 win last Friday over Lake Arthur, N.M. (Texas rules allow teams to open their seasons a week early in games against out-of-state opponents). Vasquez was a first-team tailback and cornerback, while another first-teamer, utility back Alfonso Marquez, also had two TDs in last week's win.
Sanderson fared better than most teams do when dropping down from 11-man to six-man football. Coach Vance Jones had won a previous state championship at Marathon, and helped his team go 3-3 in district, and 5-4 overall.
The Eagles graduated their top player, Roy Cash, but return three all-district picks. in utility back John Kennedy, cornerback Mike Sanchez and defensive end Jim Bob Mumme.
Granduation hit Dell City even harder, costing them last year's district MVP, Abel Valles, along with four other all-district players. They do return ceter Adrian Cadena and back Blake Gentry.
The graduation bug hit Buena Vista the year before, dropping the Longhorns from the 8-A championship to a 2-4 record, despite a mostly senior starting lineup. Defensive end Albert Gonzales is their lone returning all-district pick, while running back Zack Braden and defensive end Cody Cooper are the oly other two players to see extensive action.
Marathon, in contrast, gets all their starters back, which should give the usually player-short Mustangs a shot at ending their run of winless district seasons. Marathon was 1-9 overall last season, and put sophomore linebacker Marcelino Hernandez on the all-district squad. Out of the remaining players, only end Matt McKinney is a senior.
Sierra Blanca's only district win was over Marathon last year, but the Vaqueros did split their pre-district games to finish with a 3-6 mark. They return all-district linebacker Marino Mascarinas, along with quarterback-running back David Arnold.
PECOS, Sept. 4 -- This season, opposing defenses will try to take back some of that glory, in a year where most 4-4A teams will have their veterans starters lined up on the defensive side of the ball.
But while the defensive players have another year of experience under their belts, so do six of last year's top eight running backs, three of whom will be looking to crack the 1,000 yard barrier for the second year in a row.
In fact, district rushing leader Shaud Williams will be trying to break 2,000 yards for the second year in a row, while his Andrews Mustangs team is expected to have the best shot at breaking Sweetwater's string of five straight district championships.
Two of those came while the Mustangs were in the Lubbock-area District 5-4A, but they came back last year and unseated San Angelo Lake View, 4-4A champs in 1994-95. The Chiefs are the only team in the district that will have almost all new starters on the defensive side, but along with the two Mustang squads, they're the preseason pick to earn the third and final bi-district playoff berth.
Williams, Jacob Vasquez of Fort Stockton and Antwoyne Edwards of Big Spring all return off 1,000 yard seasons, while Sweetwater's Andrew Boatright and Andy Hall and Pecos' Richard Gutierrez also were in the Top 10 among 4-4A rushers in their junior years. Compare that to when Sweetwater briefly left the district after the 1993 season, when their fullback Chris Hines was the only runner over the 1,000 yard mark, and no other back even surpassed 900 yards.
Sweetwater led the district in defense that season, allowing just 183.8 yards per game. This past year, Lake View's district-leading defense allowed 257 yards per contest, a number that would have only been sixth best among 4-4A schools just three years earlier.
For 1997, Sweetwater is again picked to take the district title. They do return Boatright at quarterback, after he just missed rushing for 1,000 yards while throwing for 804 more. But the strength of the Mustangs figures to be their defense, where they return five all-district players out of eight starters overall.
Andrews gets back nine starters on defense from last season's third place squad, and they also return Williams and quarterback David Kessler on offense. That's an impressive mix, but the deciding factor in the two Mustang squads' Oct. 10 meeting could be which team has improved its passing ability over last fall. Andrews and Sweetwater combined for just 339 passing yards in 10 district games in 1996.
What little passing Sweetwater did in district came mainly in their season-ending 20-14 victory over San Angelo Lake View, which was the Chiefs' first district loss since 1993. Lake View lost three-time all-district quarterback Sterlin Gilbert to graduation and lost one of their few defensive starters, cornerback Chris Burges, after an off-season arrest. How well coach Kyle Gandy plugs those holes should determine whether or not Lake View makes it four straight trips to the playoffs.
The hardest team to figure, year after year, is Big Spring. The Steers always seem to have as much natural talent as anyone -- and have more overall speed than anyone in 1997 -- but only seem to put things together every couple of years. Based on their scrimmage efforts against Lamesa and Midland High, this could be one of those years.
Pecos enters its second year under coach Mike Belew with over half their starters back from 1996. Speed will again be a problem for the Eagles, but in their first two scrimmage games, the defense appears to be better than any time since 1993, while the offense was able to move the ball consistently on Greenwood last week. District home games against Big Spring and Lake View could determine whether or not the Eagles end their 22-year playoff drought.
Fort Stockton will be trying to end a 19-year drought and get their first non-losing season in 10 years this fall. The Panthers' defense, which faltered late in 1996, should take a step up this season, and they could surprise, if the new players on offense can help Jacob Vasquez, who ran for over 150 yards per game last season.
In fact, after Williams, disabled cheerleader Callie Smart drew more attention from the media than Andrews' defense did.
Andrews has resolved their cheerleading dilemma that earned them unwanted national attention, but its the other District 4-4A squads that will have to solve the dilemma of either stopping Williams or outscoring him against a Mustang defense that returns 10 starters from a group that was second among 4-4A schools in 1996.
Andrews finished 6-6, advancing to the area round of the playoffs before falling to Dumas, 10-9. Williams was the main weapon, as he rushed for 1,867 yards in regular season play and eared co-MVP honors as a sophomore.
He also helped the Mustangs rack up 365 yards per game on offense in 4-4A games. But the defense came up big in the final regular season game, when Williams was hurt early and Andrews still managed to beat Big Spring, 7-6, clinching their post-season berth.
While Andrews was No. 2 on defense behind Sweetwater, there is room for improvement. Last year's group gave up 274 yards per game in 4-4A play, but that number should come down this fall.
Andrews has a pair of first-team all-district picks returning, in lineman Jay Scudder and linebacker Temo Gurvara, along with a pair of second team selections, in lineman Jorge Ramos and head coach Mike Lebby's son Kelly, a junior linebacker.
Andrews also returns its other starting linebacker, Brandon Long, along with defensive backs Cody Chesshire and Stormy Jackson. Williams also saw considerable time in the defensive secondary for the Mustangs last season.
Andrews did get beaten through the air a couple of time against Odessa High, in their final pre-season scrimmage, but on the other side, the Mustangs also were having some success in throwing the ball, and that could help take some of the pressure off Williams, who'll be the focus of opponents all season.
Williams averaged nearly 28 carries per game in the nine-plus contests he was in during regular season play, while quarterback Daniel Kessler was just 27-for-87 for 327 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions. Kessler also ran for three TDs, though his 55-yard rushing total was lower than Andrews' other recent QBs.
However, he will be working with mostly new receivers. Chesshire had a 50-yard reception against OHS operating at split end, while split end Doug Stricklin and tight end Mike Hudson also hauled in passes, as did Geremy Woods, one of the fullback hopefuls for Andrews.
Hudson was moved from a reserve lineman spot last season to tight end, while Williams is Andrews' top returning receiver, with seven catches for 68 yards. Backup tight end Waylon Mayfield also hauled in a pass.
Aside from Williams and Kessler, the Muatangs' other returning starters are tackle Beau Moore, a second-team all-district pick, and guard Rickey Edwards. Jorge Ramos is the Mustangs only other returning varsity lineman.
Mayfield was Andrews' placekicker last season, but had problems, and the Mustangs have junior Chris Timmons listed solely as a kicker on their preseason roster. The Mustangs will also be in need of a new punter this season.
So long as Williams remains healthy, Andrews will be a threat to take their first District 4-4A title in five years. And even with a sub-par or absent Williams, the Mustangs' veteran defense and improved passing game will keep them in the playoff chase all season.|
The Steers come into 1997 with probably more backfield speed than any other District 4-4A team. But taking advantage of it will be the big task for Big Spring, which is seeking to improve on their recent results in district play.
The Steers missed the playoffs thanks to a forfeit two seasons ago, and last year struggled to a 1-4 district mark, 2-8 overall. A lack of passing and a leakier defense than in recent seasons was part of the reason for Big Spring's decline, but coach Dwight Butler gets most of his key players back, and have looked strong in their two preseason scrimmages.
Much of the experience -- and much of the speed -- is on offense. All-district running back Antwyone Edwards was third in 4-4A last season with 1,115 yards and eight TDs, while all-state sprinter Tory Mitchell has been moved to the tailback spot, where his speed should be better utilized this season.
Mitchell ran for 223 yards and three TDs in 1996, while spending part of his sophomore year at quarterback. However, this season Gabriel Mendoza is expected to handle that role, after posting 23-for-69 passing numbers for 263 yards in an injury-shortened 1996. That total included three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Edwards and Mitchell both had long TD runs in Big Spring's 3-2 scrimmage win over Midland High last week, and Mendoza had a long TD pass to new receiver Aaron Boadle.
The Steers lost their top receiver, John Smith, to graduation, but get back flanker Marcus Hyatt and tight end C.J. Ashley, who joined Edwards as a first-team 4-4A pick last fall. He had eight catches for 63 yards and a touchdown as a junior, while Hyatt had five receptions for 64 yards and a TD.
Up front, Big Spring gets three more starters back, in guard Jeremy Collier, tackle Kurt Miranda and center Brady Patterson. Miranda was a first-team selection last season. Returning reserves include Jason Brock and Daniel Thomas.
Defensively, the Steers will have four of their starters back, including first team defensive end Jeff Denton, and second team linebacker Brock Gee. Tackle Carlos Vierra and linebacker John Lawdermilk are the other returning regulars. Lawdermilk had a pair of fumble recoveries last season.
Among last season's defensive subs, the Steers get back Jacob Rios and Charles Rodriquez at linebacker, along with defensive end Chauncey Ford. Hyatt, Mitchell and Mendoza are other possibilities in the defensive backfield, where Big Spring will be looking to improve on last year's results. The Steers allowed opposing quarterbacks to have the highest completion percentage in 1996, while picking off just two passes in 10 games.
Lawdermilk is back as the Steers' kicker, after booting 15 extra points and a field goal last year, though Big Spring will be in need of a new punter this season.
Lebby considers a lack of size as one of the problems the Steers could face this season. The Steers are small on the line compared to past Big Spring teams, but they're about average for District 4-4A. And if the line can open some holes for their backs, Mitchell and Edwards figure to have a lot of long runs in 1997.
Coach Philip Lopez' second full season as Panthers head coach produced the same 1-4 record in District 4-4A as his first had. But with the new three-team playoff format, the Panthers still had a shot at the playoffs until the final period of their next-to-last game against Andrews.
Fort Stockton stayed close to Andrews in that game until the final period, despite going without their top running back, Jacob Vasquez, who missed the final two games of the season with a shoulder injury.
Vasquez is back this year, and scored a trio of touchdowns in the Panthers' opening scrimmage against Kermit. But Fort Stockton's playoff hopes will hinge as much on improving their defense as on how well Vasquez and the rest of the Panthers' offense fares this fall.
After a strong start, Fort Stockton's defense slipped back in the final games of the season. Andrews' Shaud Williams had 448 yards in their 43-27 win, the best by any running back in Texas last season, while the Panthers ended up allowing 415 yards per game in 4-4A play.
This season, Fort Stockton will be like several other teams in district, having to fill a number of key holes on offense. But they get Vasquez back, after a season in which the junior ran for 1,260 yards and 12 touchdowns, while catching five passes for 108 yards and two more TDs. It helped the Panthers average over 337 yards per game on offense, second in the district only to Sweetwater.
The rest of the Panthers' backfield will be new, but two saw varsity action as starters a year ago on defense.
Steven Cordero replaces Ector Lopez at quarterback, after starting last season at free safety. He also was Fort Stockton's No. 1 pitcher in baseball the past two seasons, so arm strength shouldn't be a problem there this season. Last season, his use on offense was limited to catching passes, as he hauled in eight for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
Scott Fish was a starting linebacker last season, but unlike Cordero, he also saw considerable action at the spot he'll play this season, fullback, running for 407 yards and a touchdown on 59 carries.
With their top two receivers, Bryan Parker and Danny Diaz, gone, Cordero will be looking to Vasquez and some new starters this season, along with tight end Armino Cabello. He caught just one pass for 15 yards last season, but earned second team all-district honors for his blocking. The Panthers' other returning tight end, James Matchett, had two catches for 13 yards in 1996. Charles Poague also started at flanker, though he had no receptions as a junior.
Up front, the offensive line will also see a number of new faces. Fort Stockton gets back tackle John Wayne Bailey. He was added to the roster during the season, as was Gage Aaron, the other returning letterman from the offensive line. Other hopefuls include Gabriel Armendariz and Andrew Franks.
Like several other district schools, Fort Stockton had a young defense in 1996, and most of the players there are back. Along with Fish, a first-team linebacker selection last season, and Cordero, Fort Stockton returns second team all-district linebacker Layton Woody, starting defensive ends Chris Irigoyen and Scott Caldwell and cornerback Andy Gonzales. Backups Nick Galvan and Carlos Vasquez could move into starting roles this time around.
Cordero may see less action on defense due to his quarterbacking duties, but the Panthers can fill in with either Charles Poague or Jack Poague, both reserves last season, or Justin Lenhart.
The Panthers will also be looking to replace Parker on special teams, where he served as both kicker and punter last season, while Vasquez and Gonzales figure to be the kickoff and punt returners.
Vasquez picked up where he left off in the Panthers' opening scrimmage against Kermit, and if Fort Stockton can give him some support and the more-experienced defense can cut down last year's numbers, the Panthers could have a shot at a post-season berth in 1997.
Gilbert graduated, after earning three straight District 4-4A passing titles, three straight playoff trips and two district titles. Going into this fall, the Chiefs figured to be relying a little bit more on the tandem running of Burges and Kendall Jones, but a week before workouts began Burges was accused of involvement in a drive-by shooting, and will not play this season.
That will hurt Lake View, but the Chiefs still have Jones and several other offensive weapons, as they seek their fourth straight trip to the playoffs.
Burges and Jones served as tandem back-ups for Adam Binnix last season, and ran for 293 and 324 yards respectively, each scoring three touchdowns. Burges' problems gave the starting fullback position to Jones by default, though he was nursing an ankle injury as the season got underway.
Healthy, but relatively untested, is junior quarterback Alonzo Robinson, Gilbert's backup a year ago. He was 0-for-3 with one interception in 1996, but now gets to work with Lake View's first string linemen and receivers.
His main target will be 6-foot-4 wide receiver Jorge Villarreal, who caught 21 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns last year, earning second-team all-district honors. However, he did have some problems with dropped passes last year, which could hurt the Chiefs more in 1997, now that Villarreal is in the No. 1 pass catcher's spot.
Larry Hill, a reserve last year, will be Robinson's other main target, while at tight end, John Goolsby and Andy King are looking to replace all-district pick Dennis VonWiller.
On the line, only second-team 4-4A center Brock Hale returns among the starters, though coach Kyle Gandy has plenty of candidates to choose from. They include 265-pound senior Richard Aguirre, a reserve last season, and 13 juniors coming up from the Chiefs' JV squad.
Defensively, San Angelo was first among 4-4A squads last season, a major turnaround from the late 1980s and early 90s, when San Angelo was at the bottom in the district numbers. Burges' loss will hurt San Angelo in the secondary, where he was a full-time starter, as was defensive end Jason Walker, who won't play this season due to injury. That leaves Jones, left tackle Anthony Hutton and Goolsby at defensive end as the returning starters from 1996.
Jones was second the district in interceptions last season with four, and earned first team honors, while Hutton was a second team selection. Robinson also played in the secondary last season, with one interception, while King also saw action at defensive end where he had one fumble recovery.
Linebacker is where San Angelo has the biggest replacement job, after graduating all three starters. Hopefuls there include Michael Gonzales, Shane Forehead and Tye Farmer.
Gilbert handled both the kicking and punting duties for San Angelo last season, so the Chiefs will need a replacement there. They'll also probably have to find a new punt returner for Robinson with his assumption of Gilbert's old QB job.
Last year's senior class was part of the group that helped San Angelo end seven years of losing records, and move from the bottom of the 4-4A standings to at or near the top in 1994, `95 and `96. All of that group is gone now, and while the Chiefs are again favored to advance to the playoffs, they do have more holes to fill in their lineup than any other district squad.
Coach Tom Ritchey's squad returned to the district last fall by picking up where they left off in 1994, taking back the 4-4A title they had allowed San Angelo Lake View to snare while the Mustangs were winning two straight District 6-4A championships.
It was Sweetwater's 11th playoff appearance in 12 years, and their eighth district championship during that span. That was good enough in April for the producers of the acclaimed basketball documentary ``Hoop Dreams'' to select Sweetwater out of 20 West Texas towns as the location for their documentary on Texas High School football. But those plans died after producers couldn't drum up the needed financing in time.
But more than the chance for nationwide fame, the Mustangs will miss a trio of all-district performers -- Shedrick Williams, Jason Blueford and Robert Reed -- who were key parts of Sweetwater's 12-1 season a year ago.
Blueford ran for 1,054 yards, Williams had three TD catches and led the district in interceptions with five, while Reed -- listed in last year's Sweetwater program merely as `kicker' -- caught 16 passes for 347 yards, second best in the district.
Their absence will hurt, particularly on offense, but Sweetwater still returns 24 players from last year's team, headed up by quarterback Andrew Boatright.
A two-year starter, Boatright ran for 987 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, much of that coming off option plays. He also passed for another 804 yards and four TDs on 38-for-100 passing, with only three interceptions. But Boatright's passing numbers dropped sharply after district started, where he was 8-for-28 for just 152 yards, no TDs and three interceptions.
The Mustangs' lack of an air attack finally caught up to them in a 7-0 playoff loss to Stephenville, and Reed, Williams and Blueford were Sweetwater's top three receivers a year ago.
Brad Barnes will replace Reed as No. 1 receiver. He was hurt part of last season, but had three catches for 45 yards. Last year's starting fullback Joe Jaramillo was lost for the season early, but Andy Hall took his place and ran for 478 yards and nine TDs. Jaramillo has graduated, but Hall is back this year.
Wingback Michael Gomez also returns, while `96 reserve Todd Hamilton, and regional 100 meter alternate Moses Brown are among those vying for Blueford's tailback spot.
Up from, tackle Daniel Price joined Boatright and Hall as second-team all-district choices last year, and Sweetwater also returned tight end Landon Brim, who was used exclusively as a blocker last season. Dwane Watts and Richard Reyes were reserve offensive linemen from a year ago who could fill two of the four openings up front.
Defensively, the only openings are at one linebacker spot, and at the cornerback spots held by Williams and Blueford. The Mustangs return defensive ends Jarod Shelton and Jason Gomez, tackles Steven Weyman and Michael Castillo, nose guard Cenubio Gutierrez, linebacker Jonathan Palafox and safeties Scott Rhodes and Dominic Solis.
Out of that group, Weyman, Castillo, Gomez, Palafox and Solis were first-team all-district picks, while Palafox had two interceptions and Castillo three fumble recoveries last year. Of the rest, Rhodes had three interceptions and two fumble recoveries, while Gomez had an interception as a fill-in on defense.
Sweetwater's defensive numbers last season were below average for the Mustangs, but at 258 yards per game it was still second best in the district, and their 91 points allowed was 58 less than any other 4-4A team.
Sweetwater also appears loaded on their special teams. Barnes served as Sweetwater's punter last year before his injury, and averaged nearly 40 yards per kick. Jason Sepeda replaced him and kicked for a 36 yard average. One of them may also take over Reed's placekicking chores this season.
The Mustangs may not have as many weapons on offense this season, but they still figure to finish among the district leaders, while with eight starters back, their defensive numbers could show a big improvement this time around.
Mac McKinnon, Publisher
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321
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Copyright 1997 by Pecos Enterprise
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