COPPERAS COVE — Jack Welch feels invigorated.
After two decades as Copperas Cove’s head coach, Welch has a lot of great memories. He has played for state championships, coached future NFL superstars, won district titles, delivered milestone victories and created a legacy of success.
But the veteran coach has never had a more enjoyable start to the season as this one, and his players are responsible.
“I’ve been here 21 years, and I’m excited,” Welch said. “It feels like my third or fourth year. As far as being a coach and enjoying coaching high school football and having kids do what you want to do, this might be the best group I’ve ever had.
“I’m not saying it’s the best talent or the best team as far as beating everybody, but I’m talking about forming together, working together, unifying, running their sprints — it’s amazing. It’s a coach’s dream.”
Copperas Cove put a period on the end of its first week of practice Saturday morning with the team’s annual intrasquad scrimmage at Bulldawg Stadium.
While the team’s preseason cohesion is putting a smile on Welch’s face, he believes the grin could grow throughout the season if the continuity continues.
“I think we have a chance to be a pretty good football team,” he said. “It is just a matter of getting it all together. We’re not there yet. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I think we are a step or two ahead of the game.”
The Bulldawgs spent almost two hours running plays under game-like conditions, giving fans reason to cheer as several players established themselves as potential game-breakers on a team that lost a number of standouts.
Running backs LeDarian Johnson and Trent Canion displayed the explosion and elusiveness needed to balance the Bulldawgs’ airborne offense, while Welch touted senior receiver Tre Powell as one of the best in the state.
Additionally, Derris Prater, DaVonn Hopkins-Phelps, Joed Hernandez and Shamad Lomax, a defensive back who will play both ways this season, showed the ability to help fill the void left at receiver following the departure of all-state selection Phillip Baptiste, Hunter McVeigh and Derrick Giles.
With senior Manny Harris, who is verbally committed to UTSA, returning at quarterback after a stellar debut season, the receivers’ jobs are simple, according to Hopkins-Phelps.
“We just need to keep running our routes,” the senior said. “We just need to make sure everything we do is right, and he’ll get us the ball.”
Defensively, the Bulldawgs are looking to improve after allowing 36.2 points per game in 2013. While the unit was exposed at times early in the scrimmage, the players adjusted as the morning went on, and the team’s leading returning tackler Jaylen Waters believes the evolution is only beginning.
“It is all about repetition, repetition, repetition,” the linebacker said. “It starts getting into your head. … Every single day we are getting better.”
Breyon Jackson, a defensive back, agrees.
“We’ve made a lot of strides,” the senior said. “We are understanding the scheme more, and we are starting to react more instead of thinking. We’re playing a lot faster.”
While there is still plenty of work to be done before kicking off the season against A&M Consolidated, Welch can see the team developing into a potential force as long as the players continue uniting together.
“We’re just inches away,” he said. “They already have the knowledge in them right now. They just need more reps, so it becomes natural.”
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