• 75°

Vidor football preview: Experienced Pirates ready for stout 22-5A tests

VIDOR — After nice playoff adventures that had Vidor in the postseason three out of four years (2009-2012) the Pirates have went 7-13 overall and 4-10 in a rugged District 22-5A the last two campaigns.

This season, the Pirates will once again wear that “underdog” tag and they will hope to wear it well as they enter the 2015 season soon with players with a lot of experience.

Coach Jeff Mathews, who is the longest-tenured head coach in Orange County and who has led the Pirates to four of their all-time six playoff appearances, will return a slew of key veterans into the 2015 fray.

The Pirates have 28 letter winners returning to the mix including nine starters on offense and eight on defense. That means that Vidor has more starters back on offense than any other 22-5A unit and the Pirates’ eight returning starters on defense matches Lumberton.

Coach Mathews stressed on how the Pirates played so many sophomores on both sides of the ball last season and how they were going to have to be on a learning curve under fire.

“This year, we’ve had some of the best practices we’ve ever had,” said Mathews. “The kids have the system so down pat now. We feel like they’re growing into being an excellent football team this year that has a chance to surprise folks.”

The Pirates, despite there 3-7 overall record and 2-5 22-5A mark, were in almost every game they played in 2014. They learned plenty of lessons along the way as they lost two substantial halftime leads to drop a pair of games in non-district and did the same in tough 22-5A losses to both Beaumont Ozen and Lumberton.

The biggest two wins came against newcomers to the district in Baytown Lee and Goose Creek Memorial.

“We were so young last year and that hurt us in games, especially late in the second half,” said Mathews. “We were playing young guys, a lot of them on both sides of the ball. We’re going to be more two-platoon this year to get some guys some rest. Tat doesn’t mean we’re not going to have guys playing on both sides but we’re deeper this year so hopefully we want be as worn down again.”

The Pirates will continue to stay in their vaunted Slot-T offense that has chewed up and wore down opposing defenses over the years.

Vidor can also boast about being the only squad in 22-5A that returns two 1,000-yard rushers.

Tailback Haylon Leckelt will return to the lineup after zipping for 1,235 yards and 15 touchdowns and fullback Blake Rowe is back after bruising his way to 1,011 yards. Trevor Duff returns with experience in the backfield as well as Dakota DeWitt.

“It’s rare in having two backs return with over 1,000 yards,” said Mathews. “We’re really deep in the backfield. We have 3,000 yards rushing that has returned. We’re also excited about Kolby Humble at quarterback. The school team rushing record is a little over 3,800, so that is a goal that the kids are striving for.”

Guards Brett Nunez and Dalton Poteet and tackle Donavan Leonard will be back to anchor the offensive line and will also play big factors along the defensive front.

The Pirates return one of the best defenders in 22-5A in the form of linebacker Andy Laughlin. Laughlin was a busy young man last year as he posted 136 tackles.

Defensive back Kolby Humble should play a key role again after picking off five passes and will be joined again by safety Dakota Dewitt.

The Pirates had a change in their non-district schedule as Pensacola Escambia was dropped after the school was involved in rule violations. Instead, the Pirates will look to play solid hosts when they welcome in Bay City from Panama City, Florida for their opener Aug. 28.

The Pirates will then be “roadies” for three straight weeks.

They will venture to Jasper (Sept. 4) and Channelview (Sept. 11) then will have their bye week before visiting the Nederland Bulldogs (Sept. 25) to open up 22-5A action.

Vidor will be back home for two straight weeks when it hosts Baytown Lee (Oct. 2) and Beaumont Ozen (Oct. 9).

“We’ve got a tough non-district schedule and then we’re looking at a strong 22-5A from top to bottom,” said Mathews. “PN-G, they look like the favorites now with all the weapons they have on offense. Never count out Nederland, nobody can figure out how to beat those guys and they’ve been a part of four straight district titles. Central and Ozen are loaded with talent and watch out for Lumberton, they could be the sleeper this year. We know we have the experience to win games, we just have to go out and get it done for four straight quarters. If we do that, we feel we can play with anybody.”