By Monty Campbell
Killeen Daily Herald
LAMPASAS — Optimism is running rampant in Lampasas for the first time in recent history as the Badgers have enveloped first-year head coach Ryan Bailey’s philosophy on changing the mind-set of the team.
After trudging through a difficult 4-6 season last year, despite possessing the state’s No. 2-ranked passing offense, Lampasas is ready to shake the label of being a team that is mediocre at best.
“One of the things that I have been pushing hard this season is the kids’ mind-set,” Bailey said, referring to the way that Copperas Cove was able to turn its program around when he was on that staff.
“One thing that Jack (Welch) does is get you to believe. These kids have the talent and strength here, I just have to get them to believe.”
Although the quarterback (Will Mezger) who piloted the Badgers’ second-ranked passing offense has since departed for Angelo State, the Badgers were able to begin believing during the 7-on-7 season this year behind sophomore quarterback Vann Millican.
Despite not reaching the state 7-on-7 tournament, Lampasas possessed many victories over larger schools with winning traditions — including two victories over Copperas Cove.
The Badgers’ offense will have a heavy burden to carry, considering that the unit returns only four players from last year. Not only does Lampasas have only a third of the unit back but also will have to find replacements for the two players who carried the team last season, quarterback Mezger and running back Wade Langley (West Texas A&M).
While Millican takes the reins from Mezger as the signal-caller for the Badgers, it is not the first time that the sophomore is taking the field for Lampasas. The Badgers had Millican slated as a key component for the offense last year, but that thought quickly ended when he suffered a broken collarbone in the first game.
The Badgers also have the heavy burden of attempting to replace their leading rusher from a year ago (Langley). As was the case in the quarterback position, a sophomore will be looked upon to carry the rushing load for Lampasas.
Brode DuBose has the physique and stamina that may help ease the loss of Langley to graduation and when he needs a breather, fellow 200-pound running back Melvin Batiste is more than capable of shouldering the bulk of the carries.
One player who will return is wide-out Jarrod Bowen and he will be counted on to help Millican adapt to the spread offense that the Badgers feature this season. The 6-foot highly touted senior receiver led the team last season with 35 receptions for 643 yards and nine touchdowns. Joining him in the receiver corps is Aaron Reyna — another member of the strong sophomore class.
Providing the protection and making the holes for Lampasas is a line that boasts two 300-pounders led by Zach Hlavaty, John Beavers and Justin Henderson.
Senior kicker Sam Barbero will be depended upon to put points on the board for Lampasas at the end of touchdown drives and also provides assurance to Bailey when the drives stall with his strong, accurate leg. Barbero proved his mettle in early July, placing fifth out of 91 kickers in a kicking competition at Texas State University.
Similarly to the offense, the Lampasas defense has many question marks heading into the season opener against Waco University. The defense returns five players to the squad that is including several of the team’s offensive threats and with the addition of new defensive coordinator Jimmy Randolph, they could lead the team early.
Bowen patrols the secondary at free safety with his highly deft hands (eight interceptions last year) and is joined in the defensive backfield by Adrian Castillo, Jeremy Brown and Ryan Abbott.
Reese Vann and Colton Lucas anchor the middle of the defense and like several of his teammates, Melvin Batiste will provide pressure up front with a strong rush from the defensive end position as he plays on both sides of the ball.
Lining up at the other defensive end position is Travis Jordan, who will undoubtedly take pressure off Batiste while providing a steady pass rush and Jesse Tobar will be the rock in the middle of the defensive line for Lampasas.
Uncertainty continues to cloud the Badgers’ optimism this season as Lampasas is relying on big performances from players who have not had the experience quite yet.
The recent success that Lampasas had in the 7-on-7 season should carry over for the first few games and the youthfulness of the team, giving a mind that could help the Badgers win close games down the stretch. Is having a young quarterback under center going to be too much to overcome? Will the defense be able to stop opposing teams or will Randolph’s new schemes stop opposing offenses?
As long as their experienced, big and strong offensive line does the job and protects the signal caller and the defense continues to shine like it did in the spring, Lampasas fans may be making plans for the playoffs.
“We want to make it to the playoffs,” Bailey said, “We were in fourth place last year and the first phase of turning the program around is to get to the playoffs.”
Contact Monty Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 547-9173.