The Kangaroos were ready to get back to work Monday morning.
As fog hovered over Leo Buckley Stadium, before the goal posts had been put back up at the ends of the field and an hour before the sun even began to rise, Killeen football was on the field.
The Roos went 5-5 overall and 4-4 in District 12-6A in 2018. They were well on their way to a playoff spot, but a late three-game skid, capped by a loss to Ellison in the penultimate week, allowed Copperas Cove to grab the final playoff berth with an upset of Temple on the final night of the season.
The Roos are determined to be the masters of their own fate in 2019.
“We felt like last year — and we feel the same way this year — talent-wise, we should be a playoff team,” said head coach Neil Searcy. “We still have that talent, but what is the next step for us to get over that hurdle?”
The Roos collectively shifted their focus this offseason to the weight room and their mental approach to the game.
“We went through the offseason and we felt like coming out of the season we had to really work on the mental part of the game,” Searcy said. “We focused on building our character, building our discipline and getting stronger, getting more mentally tough, and feel like to this point we’ve done that.
“Now it’s time to play football, now it’s time to get out there and be athletes and do those kinds of things and the kids are excited. I think we’re ready to take that next step.”
Searcy credits his strength and conditioning coach for getting the guys into the weight room and excited about seeing how their effort translates onto the field.
“We really did a lot more stuff. We lift weights more and he made everybody run track,” said running back Kadarius Marshall. “We got faster, everybody got big.”
Sophomore Xavion Walker has also been working hard in the offseason and plans to use the spring and summer vying for the starting quarterback position.
“I’ve been working really hard, both on and off the field, trying to get my GPA up because academics first,” Walker said, “and then working in the weight room so I can better myself on the field.”
The Roos’ quarterback was called up to varsity late in the season behind junior James Terry and completed 3 of 4 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Walker also rushed for 24 yards on six attempts.
Killeen will graduate 37 seniors across the field and Searcy is ready to see the next senior class step up.
“The expectation, always, is for your seniors to step up and lead,” Searcy said. “It’s their opportunity and their time to step up and lead the football team and we have some great seniors.”
Notable juniors returning for their senior year are wide receiver Brandon Fox, defensive lineman Ta’Shoyn Johnson, tight end Nate Kamper and Terry at quarterback.
“All those guys, they’re ready to step into that leadership role and take over the team and they’ve done an excellent job this offseason, so I don’t expect anything different from them out here,” Searcy said. “It’s their time and we’re ready for them to step up.”
Fox capped off his junior year with 112 yards on 20 receptions.
Terry completed 85 of 160 passes for 1,034 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. The Roos junior also rushed for 20 yards on 48 attempts with one touchdown.
Johnson finished the year with 26 solo tackles, 25 assists, four tackles for loss and three sacks.
Kamper, the junior tight end who committed to Rice at the beginning of April, finished with 305 yards and two touchdowns on 20 receptions.
“I think our seniors are the pushing part to this team,” said Walker. “They’re coming back strong, we’ve got some really good linemen that came back both offensively and defensively, along with our receivers.
“And our tight end, Nate Kamper, is coming back — it’s a blessing to have him; 6-foot-7 ... I just think we’re going to do really good with him.”
With a core group of upperclassmen returning, the Roos use spring practice to be game ready by the start of summer.
“We want to try and look like we can go play a game at the end of spring,” Searcy said. “That’s the plan, that’s the vision as far as what we want to get out of spring.”
But before the Roos take the field in August, Searcy wants to use the spring to give every player the chance to compete for one of the 38 open varsity slots.
“The luxury of spring is you have the opportunity to see the guys you have returning get better,” noted Searcy. “And then you have the opportunity to grow these young guys, these freshmen, who are now in our eyes sophomores, we get the opportunity to grow those guys.
“JV guys get to move up and we get to see who’s ready and who isn’t ready, so we’re excited about that opportunity for those guys. That’s what spring is all about.”
After a breakout sophomore season that ended with a unanimous vote as 12-6A Newcomer of the Year, Marshall returns with the goal of contributing even more for the Roos.
“I’m going to try and run the ball harder,” he said. “And try to push the ball further down the field.”
Marshall finished the season with 1,237 yards on 165 attempts with 11 touchdowns. He also caught 14 passes for 239 yards and five touchdowns.