By Alex Byington
Harker Heights Herald
With his team huddled around, Harker Heights head coach Mike Mullins spoke of district titles and potential.
But immediately following the Knights' hour-long spring game Thursday, Mullins still acknowledged the Knights have a long way to go before his fourth season at the helm officially kicks off Aug. 13.
"It's like I told them, we've got to continue working until school's out and then continue working until Aug. 13," Mullins said.
Outside of rising junior tailback Marcus Anderson II, and a handful of lineman - highlighted by the nation's top-rated center in Darius James - the Knights will be breaking in a completely new offense while playing in a brand new District 8-5A.
"We're definitely excited. Defense as a whole, I know everyone is excited and on offense you can feel the vibe and the tempo," said junior Naashon Hughes.
Anderson II, who enters the season as the likely starter at tailback, took limited snaps in the spring game as a precaution, while James spent the afternoon in shorts and a tee-shirt after missing all of Spring practices with a broke foot.
Highlighting the Knights' youth is the team's biggest offseason question mark: who's going to replace graduating two-year starter C.J. Rodriguez at quarterback?
Rotating in every other snap, rising junior Damion May and rising sophomore Troy Smith each showed flashes of starting potential, with both connecting with 50-yard bombs to rising junior receiver Tony Barnes.
"If I played tomorrow, I'd do exactly what I'm doing now, because both of them have great qualities, and they're going to be great assets to our team," Mullins said.
But each also showed their inexperience with several overthrows and a couple of turnovers - including a fumble by May and a pair of interceptions for Smith.
"Both of them have a lot of improvement to do, but they've grown a lot these past couple of week. I'm just ready to see which one of them start," said Hughes.
The biggest of Smith's interceptions turned into the defense's lone touchdown, when rising senior defensive back Samson Gray stepped in front of a curl route to Hughes and returned it 40 yards for the score.
Returning All-District 12-5A defensive back Tyrel Stokes recovered May's fumble in the opening series.
"We're pretty experienced in the secondary, you can see Stokes and Samson and those guys they make some big plays," Mullins said.
But it was Barnes who made the biggest plays with his two touchdowns, finishing with three catches for 111 yards.
"Tony had two great catches, and he's kind of got deceiving speed because he can get behind people, and the good thing about that is we've probably got more speed across the board but all of our receivers are young and interchangeable to different places," Mullins said.