Mustangs relying on young unit to make another run

Published 10:18 am Saturday, August 25, 2018

WEST ORANGE — They may be going through a youth movement again at West Orange-Stark, but the Mustangs have been there and done that throughout the years and it never seems to slow them down.

Goals are set and the Mustangs will be chasing some big dreams as they will try to reach the Class 4A Division II State Championship Game for the fifth straight year under the direction of long-time coach Cornel Thompson.

A lot is on the line as the Mustangs have won eight straight district titles and have made it as far as the Region III Finals seven straight years.

Another big date looms in their District 10-4A Division II opener Oct. 12 when the Silsbee Tigers check into Hooks Stadium. That night, WO-S will become the No. 1-ranked program in Texas history as far as winning percentage when the Mustangs play their 500th game of their storied program.

The program has put together an amazing four-year run, with back-to-back state crowns in 2015 and 2016 and state runnerups in 2014 and last season.

“We’ve had a great run for sure, but every year is a new year, many folks think we just come out here and reload each time, but that’s far from the case,” said Thompson. “We’re definitely a young ballclub this year with just seven starters back in the mix. Looks like we’re going to be a junior-oriented type of team with some guys that have never played under the Friday night lights. That’s why we’re hoping for our senior class, which is a small one, to step up and help lead the way with some leadership.”

Last season was quite a run as WO-S surprised many by going 13-1 with a team that lacked a lot of experience after 2016 saw a ton of talent graduate from one of the best teams ever.

“It wouldn’t be fair for this years’ group to feel so much pressure after our last senior class watched us reach at least the state title game in all four years they were here in school,” said Thompson. “We do have a few kids back that have played in some big games, but not that many when you look at it. This squad this year has some growing to do and needs to find its own identity and trust me, they have a lot to learn.”

Thompson was pleased with the efforts during the offseason, especially during the summer.

“The kids really busted their tails and worked very hard over the course of the summer,” said Thompson. “Overall, they came into the start of practice in pretty good physical condition. One of the other positives we’ve seen is that they all seem to get along great and work hard together and they strive to be better together, which is really a good deal, being so young and all.”

The Mustangs are going to go for it again despite several speed bumps, including a fierce non-district schedule.

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

No question about it, the non-district schedule is as tough as Coach Thompson could get it. They host Nederland in their opener Aug. 31, followed by a visit to Orange County rival LC-M. Then there is a battle at home against defending Class 3A Division II champion Newton. There is a trip at Class 5A powerhouse Crosby, followed by dates with Bridge City and Jasper before the district opener.

“Some folks say that is a crazy schedule and what is Coach Thompson thinking every year, it’s simple, nobody out there is begging to play us and sometimes I feel it’s a miracle that we even get six games,” said Thompson.

There will be definitely some tough sailing ahead.

“Every year we find out where are weak spots are with Nederland, whether it’s a game or a scrimmage because you know they’re going to be well-coached as always,” said Thompson. “Then there is those two rivalry games with LC-M and Bridge City that everyone in the area loves to be seen played. Then there is that gauntlet of back-to-back weeks against Newton and Crosby. Newton has about 90 percent of their starters back from a great 3A state champion team. Then there is a road trip to Crosby. Our kids will get to play on turf and we may not see a team with the quality and high-volume number of athletes Crosby has. Then we finish it with Jasper, enough said right there. It’s usually always a battle when we play and we go to there place.”

Offensively, the Mustangs will still line up in the spread. Junior quarterback Tyrone Wilson will look to lead the way after playing a little bit behind Chaka Watson a season ago.

“He’s just a junior-to-be but what is great is that the kids really seem to respect Tyrone,” said Thompson. “His running is a little ahead of his passing right now, which is expected at this time of year but that will get better with time and experience.”

Junior Shauvon Crawford and sophomore Jerren Terrell will also be getting looks at the position for depth.

Senior running back Kavyn Cooper, who zipped for more than 800 yards and 13 TDs last season and fellow senior Justin Sibley, who had more than 400 yards, are both back in the mix. Ja’Vonn Ross and Teshaun Teel will also see some totes as all four backs will also see time on the defensive side of the ball.

“We definitely have a strength in our backfield unit, especially with Cooper and Sibley back and both have had some big moments for us,” said Thompson. “We’ll be expecting even more from them this year, especially with block protection and catching more balls out of the backfield. We’ll put Sibley at slot receiver quite a bit too.”

Coach Thompson is looking for some young players to step up at receiver.

“We don’t exactly have a go-to deep guy, we just don’t have that much experience at all, so we’ll find out more after our scrimmages on who will line up out there,” said Thompson. “We’ll also utilize a two-tight end set a little more.”

Those that will play at receiver includes Sibley, Ross, Renaldo Rose, Ja’zyn Robinson, Garrett Dixon, DeAndre Hawthorne and Bretlin Wiley.

The staff is excited about the tight end spots that will include the likes of Shemar Manaway, Keontae Strother and Tyrone Brown.

The offensive line will be anchored by all-district picks Jacorry Brady and Quincy Ledet, who will be surrounded by new faces such as Darby Jones, Jordan Garrett, Steven Wilkinson and Courtney Davis.

Defensively, Brady and Ledet will be up front again but the Mustangs have some depth around them with Manaway expected to contribute in a big way along with Davis, Wilkinson, Hykiem Taylor and B’Jan Arvie.

Expected to pave the way at defensive end and linebacker is Cooper, who was an all-district pick after 2 tackles last year, Sibley, Jamarcus Ross and Wilbert Ned. Inside linebackers battling are Brown, Strother and Lande Butler.

“We’re going to have a lot of new faces that will have to step in and play major roles for some guys that are having to play on both sides of the ball,” said Thompson. “At 4A Division II, you can’t help to not play guys on both sides, we just don’t want them to play a whole 48 minutes.”

The secondary will be led by the likes of all-district safety Teel along with Hawthorne, Rose, Ross Wiley and Patrick Mickey.

“Teel is definitely our veteran back there and we’ll expect for him to step up and lead our defense,” said Thompson.. “Guys like him, Cooper, Brady, Ledet and Sibley, we’re looking for them to pave the way and teach our younger ones a lot.”

Handling th kicking and punting chores will be Paulino Santos and Angel Ibarra will also do a little of the kicking duties as well.”

Six non-district games will certainly get the Mustangs ready for 10-4A Division II play when they open up against Silsbee at home Oct. 12 followed by a road trip to Hardin-Jefferson, a home date with Liberty and a trip to Hamshire-Fannett.

“No doubt, that Silsbee game is going to be huge because that will be our 500th game as a program,” said Thompson. “Silsbee has so much talent and they get after it. Our last district loss was to them way back in 2009 and we know they’ll be hungry coming in here and trying to spoil things. Hardin-Jefferson will be better, just because Coach (Dwayne) DuBois is back there and they love him in Sour Lake and what he accomplished before. Liberty is always big and likes to push folks around and they run that Slot-T and Wing-T stuff well.Hamshire has a new solid coach in Coach (Mark) Waggoner. He comes over from Waco Robinson, so you know he’ll change there look there and they’ll be chunking it.”

So Thompson and staff just want the Mustangs to concentrate on what is in front of them each week.

“Expectations are always high here at WO-S and they should be with a winning percentage over .800 all these years,” said Thompson. “But with that said, we don’t want the kids to pay attention to all the hype and rankings and such. We’re a young football team right now and we just want to improve each week and stay healthy. We see potential but there are a lot of roads to navigate before we get there.”