Copperas Cove made history in 2013.
Led by a quarterback making his varsity debut and a trio of senior receivers, the Bulldawgs rewrote the school’s record books, finishing the season as Class 5A’s top offense by averaging 518.9 yards per game.
In 2014, they intend to do it again.
“We are following right in their footsteps,” senior receiver Derris Prater said. “They were the No. 1 passing offense in the state, and our coaches expect nothing less than that this year. So we are following right along.”
If they repeat the lofty feat, however, it will be with an entirely new look.
The Bulldawgs lost their three top receivers from last year’s roster, including all-state selection Phillip Baptiste, who posted the single-best season in school history with 113 receptions for 1,556 yards and 17 touchdowns. Additionally, Hunter McVeigh (53-748, 10 TDs) and Derrick Giles (44-517, 4 TDs) graduated, leaving Prater and Tre Powell as the only remaining receivers to finish last season with more than eight catches.
All together, Baptiste, McVeigh and Giles accounted for 73.5 percent of the team’s receiving yards in 2013, but senior quarterback Manny Harris is not concerned about the loss of his top playmakers.
“Those guys are like brothers to me,” the 2013 District 8-5A Co-MVP said. “We would always hang out, talk and have a good time. They were a good group to be around, but we have to move on and do whatever is best for this class.
“This is a great young group with a lot of potential. There are some guys who could be top receivers in the state this year.”
During the Bulldawgs’ offseason run to the upcoming Texas 7-on-7 Championships, a number of players are solidifying their roles as reliable targets.
Along with being Harris’ self-admitted safety blanket, Powell returns as Copperas Cove’s most experienced receiver after catching 38 passes for 652 yards and four touchdowns as a junior.
While Powell serves as the most familiar face in the Bulldawgs receiving corps, Prater is emerging as a favorite weapon, using his speed to become a constant deep-field threat.
Monday, in the Bulldawgs’ final week of 7-on-7 league play, Prater hauled in multiple bombs from Harris to complete one-play scoring drives, but he attributes the connection to more than just talent.
“I trust where he is going to put it; I know where he wants it to go, and I go out there and get it,” Prater said. “We work a lot. We work together any time we get a chance. On Saturdays, we are always running routes to try and get our chemistry and timing down.”
As a junior, Prater (17-155) averaged 9.1 yards per catch.
One of the more surprising developments of the offseason has been the transition of backup quarterback DaVonn Hopkins-Phelps into a sure-handed receiver.
After fighting against one another for the starting spot under center prior to last season, Hopkins-Phelps and Harris are now working together to move the ball, and the evolution of the relationship has been relatively seamless.
“As a quarterback, I know what to be looking for as a receiver,” Hopkins-Phelps said, “and we’ve known each other since we were little kids, so it’s easy to connect with each other.”
“I knew DaVonn always had hands because it is just natural,” he said. “Quarterbacks catch the ball on every play, so every quarterback should have great hands, and he sure does.”
Although the Bulldawgs still have unfinished business to attend to as they look to win a 7-on-7 state championship in the program’s first tournament appearance since 2010, the players are already looking forward to another historic season.
“I think we will be a great team,” Prater said. “I feel like we can go deep in the playoffs. We’re buying in and doing what our coaches are coaching us to do, and we’re looking good.”