Killeen freshman football didn’t have a winning record until the fall of 2015.
Those same freshmen that ended with the first winning record are now the senior class — Neil Searcy’s first since becoming head coach of the Kangaroos that same year.
“I told them when they were freshmen that they were going to be the team that turns this program around,” Searcy said, looking around at his players during spring practice Wednesday afternoon.
That season was the same year defensive line coach James Crossland started his third year coaching at Killeen.
Searcy moved him from the offensive line to defense and named him the freshman head coach.
“Those are my freshmen,” Crossland said, glancing over to his defensive line sitting on the sidelines on a break watching the offensive line.
Having coached for 10 years, he added that the hunger and energy of these players stands out above the rest.
“This group of defense is the most ferocious group of young men I’ve ever coached,” he said. “They have no quit in them, no stop. It’s literally all gas, no breaks.
“It’s the kind of stuff you can’t even coach. It makes it fun for us defensive coaches out here.”
Despite many of last season’s starters graduating, Searcy sees a bright future for Kangaroo football.
“That’s what spring ball is good for,” he said. “You get to see younger guys who didn’t get to play varsity and see who may be able to step up and play.”
Among those stepping up, the coaches have noticed James Terry, who started as the Roos junior varsity quarterback last year as a freshman.
“I’ve been really impressed,” Searcy said. “I’m just looking for him to get better every snap.”
Ta’Shon Johnson stood out for his work in the weight room during the offseason.
“He’s really grown, gotten bigger and stronger,” Searcy notes.
The Roos are looking to add depth with multiple players being able to play various positions.
Amir Ward and Raquan Thompson spent last season as defensive ends, but this spring, Ward has moved to tight end while Thompson is playing offensive end.
A new face among the Roos is Kadarius Marshall — a postseason transfer from Mississippi who Searcy calls a “tremendous talent.”
Marshall is a freshman running back who can also fill in at linebacker.
“I think he’s going to factor in and push some of these guys on varsity for some playing time,” Searcy said of Marshall.
Demarea Brown is a linebacker leading the way on defense.
“He’s always been the kid that loves to hit,” Crossland said, noting that Brown has stepped up and filled in behind an injured Chris Ingram. “He’s stepped in and we have not missed a beat.
“Brown is really having a great spring.”
One returning face is junior receiver Djhavon Dormeus.
“This next year, he’s going to play some defensive back,” Searcy said.
Dormeus was a part of that 2015 freshman team before working his way up to being Killeen’s main receiver last season.
“Day 1, we came in and coach Crossland told us we have to come in and change the tradition,” he recalled. “Coach said it started with us, and we just kept on pushing from there.”
As the Roos ran drills, Searcy watched, noting the biggest change he’s seen in his players over the years.
“This group, they play together,” he said, “it’s not about the individual but as a team.
The upperclassmen understand that this season is what they’ve been working toward for the last three years, and while they’re playing together as one, they’re making sure the freshmen keep up.
“I just tell them that it’s a different type of energy out here, from freshmen practice to spring with the big boys,” Dormeus said. “Come out here and when your number’s called, you've got to make plays.”
“We’re capitalizing on that so far.”