By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE - As he scans the Copperas Cove practice fields, Jack Welch can't help but notice a gaping hole in his offensive backfield about 3,700 yards and 52 touchdowns deep.
With former quarterback Orlando Thomas four months into his career on the 40 acres, sporting a burnt orange No. 21 as a defensive back for the Texas Longhorns, and bruising tailback Brandon Hamilton set to begin his time at Rice later this summer, the Copperas Cove head coach has spent much of the spring trying to find those lost yards.
"Of course you have to replace the position, because those kids that started are gone, but it's not that you replace them with the same type of characteristic," Welch said. "You've got to take what you've got and build around them."
While building a sense of team unity and cohesiveness is first and foremost on Welch's mind this spring, he's also looking to determine who will step up and fill in the departed offensive production.
Last season, Thomas combined for more than 2,200 total yards and 26 touchdowns and Hamilton had an area-best 1,505 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns as the Bulldawg duo led Cove to a 10-2 record and its first playoff win and outright district title since 2008.
"Any time you lose great players, I don't necessarily think you replace them, because they were great in their area," Welch said. "What you try to do is look at the kids that you have and what they can do, and then you've got to build your offense and defense around them."
Rising senior Robbie Seybold, a converted receiver coming off an injury-filled junior campaign, is one of the leading candidates at quarterback. A two-year starter at receiver, Seybold has the athleticism to fit into a similar role Thomas filled last season, with the ability to scramble and make things happen with his legs as well as his arm.
Nick DePrisco and Drew Dewald, a pair of junior varsity signal callers last year, are also in the running to field snaps, as is rising junior Vondareaz King, who is more likely to be a jack-of-all-trades slot option.
"You've got to find a guy that can move the team, that gives you confidence, that has that persona, that has that feeling," Welch said. "Because we have, and will always have, capable people. So why do you pick one over the other? You've got to see how they mesh, that unifying thing they're doing."
The versatile King could also pair with rising senior Chans Colbert as a tailback-by-committee approach to replace help alleviate Hamilton's productivity. Last season, Colbert and King combined for 935 yards and nine touchdowns.
"You've got to look at strength, and you've got to look at speed. In our league, speed kills. You've got to have somebody that's got that kind of speed," Welch said. "At running back, there are three things you've got to have: running, that's natural, but you've got to find a blocker and you've also got to find a guy that can catch the football."
While the offensive line was a big question this time last year, Cove returns All-District 12-5A first-teamer Israel Hamm along with others for what should be a strength this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, much of the secondary will feature new faces, while the linebackers will be led by defending District 12-5A defensive MVP Darius McClinton.
If there's one question mark even bigger than offensive backfield, it's the kicking game, where Cove graduated Eli Kuhns, a stalwart at both kicker and punter the last two years.
"My concern is kicker. ... When you have to replace your punter and your kicker, that's key for me," Welch said.
So, as the Bulldawgs prepare for their final spring practice on May 24, the defending District 12-5A champions are still searching for that next wave of talent to step up.
"We're not where we need to be, (but) we're still pushing real hard, we're fighting to get there," Welch said.