HARKER HEIGHTS — Every practice has a purpose for Rhomel Dudley.
More than five months after Harker Heights fell just short of making consecutive playoff appearances, the sting of missing out remains with the Knights junior.
So, when the program began spring practices last week, Dudley stepped on the field with a singular motivation — return to the postseason.
“That is our main source of fuel,” the linebacker said. “We want to control our own destiny, and all we have to do is play hard on every snap.
“Starting now, we have to capitalize on every opportunity.”
The Knights entered the final game of last season in a three-way tie for District 8-6A’s final playoff berth, and despite capturing a 37-35 victory against Killeen in a must-win situation, Harker Heights failed to advance after Copperas Cove’s win at Belton sent the Bulldawgs into the postseason.
Like Dudley, teammate Shaun Dye agreed the playoff absence is propelling the team.
“I was hurt the year we made the playoffs,” the offensive lineman said. “So, I want to get there to experience it, and I want the younger players to make it, so they will keep wanting to come back.
“It’s all about encouraging everyone to get on the same page and get back to the playoffs.”
Harker Heights will spend essentially every weekday morning practicing for the next three weeks with the spring session culminating with the program’s annual spring game May 15 at Leo Buckley Stadium.
The schedule will also be accompanied by hours of studying plays and philosophies, lifting weights, scrimmaging and 7-on-7.
While each aspect adds to the team’s collective ability, spring football is critical to the Knights’ potential success for other reasons, according to Harker Heights head coach Jerry Edwards.
“This is a chance to build some team chemistry,” he said. “This game is all about timing, working together and jelling, and spring ball provides a chance to work on all that without the pressure of a game coming up.
“This is a time for guys to get a feel for each other, because some guys are returning and some guys are new, so this is a different team.”
The Knights produced a 5-5 record last year behind 26 seniors, including all-district first-team selections in running back Jameel Hodges, fullback Markel Reo, offensive guard Taunty Motu, offensive tackle Sam Pinkey and utility player Jaquan Tillis.
Plenty of talent remains, though.
Along with Dudley, who landed on the all-district first team as an outside linebacker, fellow first-team selection Dorian Black, a defensive tackle, is set to return along with 19 other soon-to-be seniors.
While the Knights still have a long journey ahead of them before accomplishing their goal of returning to the playoffs, Edwards is taking time to enjoy the process.
“It’s always exciting to put the pads back on and get rolling again,” he said. “It’s fun to see how much we’ve progressed and all the hard work that we’ve put in from December until now has paid off.”
Dudley echoed the sentiments.
“This is my last spring ball going into my last season,” he said. “Hopefully, I get the opportunity to play at the next level, but I’m just focusing on improving.
“It’s definitely fun, though, and I’m trying to enjoy everything we do.”