Killeen football coach Sam Jones and his staff may have split up the Kangaroos football team for tonight’s annual spring game but they still hope to see team unified.
Jones wants to see all the other things a 5A football coach wants to see at the end of spring drills: that the kids are competing, flying to the football, remembering what they’ve been taught and finishing the game healthy, all the things that give a head coach a sense of relief going into the offseason.
But with so many new faces in so many key positions, Jones especially wants to see his veteran players bonding and playing well with guys that don’t have the same experience tonight in Killeen’s annual Maroon-White scrimmage at 7 p.m. at Leo Buckley Stadium.
“All the kids, this will be a time for them to shine, especially for the ones that have been close (between varsity and JV),” Jones said, “or maybe have been playing with a (Brian) Parker or (Matthew) Ballard, or someone (else) that played last year. Now, they may not have both of them in the secondary, so now they have to step it up a notch and play a little bit better because, really, the White team’s their team or the Maroon team’s their team.”
Going into the spring drills, the Roos, which finished 7-4 overall, 4-3 in District 8-5A and made the playoffs a fifth-consecutive year last season, was left with a lot of voids where graduating seniors played last year, especially on the offensive line. So, splitting the team in half and playing a combination of starters and reserves on both sides of the ball at the same time helps the Roos build depth and leaders.
“It’s not split so bad — it may be the right guard and the right tackle are together, the left guard and the left tackle are together — so the camaraderie is still there,” Jones said. “Then, the other side, they have to encourage them to come on — ‘Just because you maybe weren’t with us with the first group, now you are.’”
In addition to building depth, the game is also an opportunity for players on the bubble between varsity and JV separate themselves, which is another reason why Jones mixes the two squads together.
“Remember, our JV is one game away from being a varsity player,” Jones said. “So, they’ll all be mixed in together. If they’re on the bubble on the JV, this game may decide if they’re going to be on the varsity.”
The will also provide reserve players the opportunity to play with and against some of the team’s stalwarts, like running back Daniel McCants, 8-5A’s leading rusher last season, and linebacker Peyton Searcy, the district’s defensive newcomer of the year. While McCants, Searcy and others like quarterback Garrett Gaskamp, receiver Devyn Williams and defensive backs Ballard and Parker are familiar names, others are expected to play pivotal roles for their respective units.
Players like receiver Dante Ellis-Thomas and defensive ends Jarell Taylor and Lamont Alexander will get their chance to fill holes and roles after seeing limited time last year playing behind seniors, who are now preparing for graduation.
“Every year we graduate 30-36 seniors, so we expect the young ones to be ready to come up,” Jones said. “Like right now, we’re training another quarterback, we’ve got another running back ... so we’re trying to develop them and hopefully we don’t fall too far off. ... They just have to grab the rope and go from there.”