WO-S preview: Youthful Mustangs will certainly be a work in progress

Published 10:54 am Wednesday, August 30, 2017

WEST ORANGE — At West Orange-Stark, to reach the pinnacle of the Class 4A Division II State Championship Game for the third straight season, the Mustangs know they have a ton of work ahead of them.

This group of Mustangs are what many call “wet behind the ears” when it comes to Friday night experience.

A senior class is gone, that included 13 college signees. That group saw the Mustangs go 44-4 the last three seasons. Last season the Mustangs outscored opponents 811-69 for the season. Repeating that would be a tall task indeed for the youngsters this season and Coach Cornel Thompson and Co. will look to build up the talent and the confidence.

Plenty of new faces will be looking to hold the line.

The Mustangs return just four starters, four on offense and three on defense.

“Many folks are thinking we’re just going to reload but that’s far from the case,” said Thompson. “We’re definitely in a rebuilding mode. We’re so young on both sides of the ball. We could easily be starting four or five sophomores on both sides of the ball. That’s tough to do, but we might have to.”

Thompson doesn’t want this year’s group to feel like they should be compared to the last three teams.

“It simply would not be fair to these kids at all, we’re talking about a senior group that graduated that many of them played in three state championship games, winning the last two,” said Thompson. “We’ve got some kids back that experienced it but not many. This group is going to need to find its own identity. They have a lot to learn and a lot of growing up to do but they do have a lot of potential and we like that.”

The Mustangs may be young, but they do have some returning talent, especially at the skill positions.

Senior Chaka Watson will be taking over at quarterback to run the spread offense. He showed promise coming in for quarterback Jack Dallas last season.

“It’s so hard to replace a starter like Jack Dallas, someone who played in nearly 50 games and started in three state championships,” said Thompson. “Chaka Watson, we have confidence in him. He’s been in the program and knows what to expect. We definitely want to use his talents. He’s really good at toss sweeps, running the ball and we like him in the boot-leg.”

Starting tight end Kaleb Ramsey and Tyrone Wilson will be in the backup roles at quarterback.

Junior running back Kavyn Cooper returns after zipping for 753 yards and 13 touchdowns on just 80 carries while junior Justin Sibley also returns with experience, zipping for 290 yards and two TDs on just 29 totes.

“I think our strength could be our backfield,” said Thompson. “Cooper had some really good moments last year and we’ll look forward to giving him more touches. Sibley is back healthy and we feel we can move him around some. He can play in the backfield and some at slot receiver. Ja’Vonn Ross will likely get his share of touches too.”

The Mustangs have a couple key people back to catch the ball, including all-district selection Blake Robinson and tight end Ramsey. The Mustangs are looking for depth there as Jarron Morris and Ross will see time at receiver as well.

WO-S will bring some familiar faces to help hold down the offensive line including all-district selections Paul Ivory and Jacorry Brady along with Bobby Rash and Adrik Mims.

The Mustangs will look for an inexperienced defensive line to come to the forefront.

Tyshon Watkins got some nice experience up front last year, Ivory, along with Brady, Ja’Qualan Coleman and Jerrick Spencer will also factor in the trenches.

“What we worry about is depth in our lines,” said Thompson. “We’ve got some kids going both ways, so we’re hoping some of the younger guys can step in and fill a void.”

The defensive unit will be led by a strong secondary that includes the likes of all-district selections in cornerback Jarron Morris along with safety Teshaun Teel.

“We’ve got to get solid production from those two guys, and leadership,” said Thompson. “Teel was one that just got better each week last year and Morris, he was so solid at cornerback and could be special in the return game. We will intend to utilize them on offense in spots too. The other two spots our up in the air with several guys battling it out.”

All-district linebacker Davien Teate returns to the mix. The Mustangs are looking for guys like Cooper, Lande Butler and Keontae Strother to step in and play well.

“Defense is a top concern early, because we do have spots to fill and guys going both ways,” said Thompson. “We’ll get a good look as these younger guys early on as we go through tough scrimmages with PN-G and Vidor then another gauntlet of a non-district schedule.”

The Mustangs, as usual, will have perhaps the toughest non-district slate in the Southeast Texas area.

They head to Nederland to face some fired up Bulldogs in Coach Monte Barrow’s head coaching debut in their opener. They will get long-time rival Little Cypress-Mauriceville and a gritty Bridge City unit in back-to-back home dates. They also have to visit a loaded Silsbee unit plus take on 4A Division I semifinalist Kennedale at Nacogdoches High Oct. 6 before starting District 12-4A Division II play.

“It’s a non-district schedule that will separate the young men from the boys, as usual, especially for a young football team,” said Thompson. “We go to Nederland, which has a new coach, a new quarterback and a new team and they’ll be fired up. We have a pair of games at home back to back against Orange County foes LC-M and Bridge City and we know they’ll be fired up. A tough road trip to Silsbee, they’ll be waiting to trap us and they have a load of talent. Then we wrap up against a hungry Kennedale team in Nacogdoches, a semifinalist in Division I last year, and you know those Wildcats would like a piece of us after last year.”

WO-S will dive into 12-4A play Oct. 13 when they visit Hamshire-Fannett. The Mustangs have not dropped a district contest since the 2009 season. The last two years, the Mustangs have outscored their 12-4A counterparts 391-10 in eight encounters.

“The district should be much more competitive this year,” explained Thompson. “Fannett is going to be improved and we go there. Hardin-Jefferson comes in with some talent after going two rounds last year. Liberty, that will be tough at their place. They are huge up front and have a good quarterback back along with a good back. Orangefield, they come here and Coach (Josh) Smalley always has those guys in the playoffs. We have a small league, but one that has proven itself in the playoffs.”

Now it’s all about getting ready for the first game.

“We don’t want the kids to play attention to rankings and predictions, that’s something we don’t like to do around here,” said Thompson. “We’re so young at this point, we just want to improve each week. A big key is staying healthy and passing our classes throughout a tough non-district schedule. We see the potential but it’s going to be a work in progress.”