Jack Welch believes everything starts now.
Although kickoff for the upcoming football season is still months away, players and coaches across the state began preparations last week as spring training got underway.
Some view the window as an opportunity to get players in shape for the strenuous season waiting ahead, but for Copperas Cove’s longtime head coach, Wednesday’s practice was the equivalent of opening night.
“I get excited about spring ball because, to us, this is the start of football season,” Welch said. “A lot of people wait until August and think that’s the start of football season, but it’s really now for us.”
The Bulldawgs will encounter one of the toughest nondistrict schedules in the area once the season officially begins, facing four teams with a combined record of 37-13 in 2013, including Lake Travis and A&M Consolidated.
Then, Copperas Cove begins working toward an 11th consecutive playoff appearance as District 12-6A play begins.
Knowing the season will be grueling, Welch places added importance on getting everything in order during the spring.
“The biggest purpose for us right now is this is the time we build a football team,” he said. “We’ve got to decide how everything is going to fit.
“This is the time for getting all the offense, defense and kicking game put in. ... You’re giving up six days in the fall for 18 days now, so obviously, this is a very important time.”
Last season, the Bulldawgs relied heavily on their aerial attack as junior quarterback Manny Harris, who led the team in both passing and rushing, rewrote the school’s record books, guiding Copperas Cove to a 6-4 overall record before falling to No. 2 DeSoto in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bulldawgs led the district in points (467) and passing yards (3,463) during the regular season, while finishing second in total offense with 517.5 yards per game.
While Harris — the District 8-5A co-MVP — and many others return, a number of players graduated, including Phillip Baptiste, who cemented himself as the most prolific receiver in school history, catching 113 passes for 1,556 yards and 17 touchdowns.
In addition to losing playmakers, Welch knows the departures remove a large chunk of leadership from his locker room as well.
“This is the time when you’ve lost those good ones from last year, so now it’s time for the new ones to step up and fill those spots,” he said. “So that’s basically where we are.”
Although no points are being scored and standings are not being kept, Welch intends to have his players in midseason form mentally by the end of spring training.
“We want to be able to operate our offense and defense and know exactly what we want to do,” Welch said. “It’s not necessarily what schemes you can draw up. We’re pretty good scheme-drawers, to be honest with you. We can draw up some pretty good schemes and make it look real good. We can beat your butt on the chalkboard, but if the players can’t do it, it doesn’t matter.”