By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Buddy McBryde doesn't want to talk about last year.
Of course, refusing to talk about Ellison's second winless season and forgetting it are two totally different things — especially for the players.
"When I walked off that field against Shoemaker, that's when my whole demeanor changed about how hard I'm going to work in the offseason and how hard we're going to work as a team," said senior defensive back Marcus McPherson. "I'm not going to let that happen to our team again. Not again."
After opting to forgo spring training for an extra week of preseason practices, which includes an extra scrimmage, Ellison hit the field as a team Monday morning for the first time since the disappointing 32-24 loss to the Grey Wolves in last year's season finale.
"I feel like that last season was a mentality check. We felt like we were prepared, but it just shows how much harder you really have to work, how much more effort you put in," said senior lineman Marin Biletic.
The Eagles were the lone area 5A program to start fall football practice Monday, the first day of conditioning for 4A and 5A schools who didn't practice in the spring as well as schools in 3A and below.
Also joining in on the fray were newly reborn 2A Salado, which dropped back down from 3A during the latest realignment in February, along with new District 13-2A foe Florence, and Lampasas and Gatesville, two new District 8-3A foes.
"It was a great day. The kids did a really good job. Of course, we've got 30 seniors, so (there's) a lot of carry over, those kids just did a great job, picked right up where we left off," Gatesville coach Kyle Cooper said. "I was really proud of them. I liked the effort and spunk that our JV showed and freshmen weren't too wide-eyed, so it was a good day."
Salado third-year head coach Glenn Talbott is taking on more responsibility after a tumultuous offseason cost him both his offensive and defensive coordinators. Talbott managed to hire an offensive coordinator, but chose to take back the reins of the defense after being promoted from defensive coordinator in July 2010.
"It was good. ... Basically I was doing defense all day today," Talbott said. "(But) it looked like it was going pretty smooth over (on offense), so I didn't really have to wander or sneak away. ... And the kids responded. They just wanted to get out there and play football, and that's what it's all about."
McBryde, who's still seeking his first playoff appearance in his fifth year as Ellison head coach, decided a change in thinking was needed following the program's first winless season since 2000.
"We felt like it would be very beneficial to us to focus on our weights, and our strength and physical development and do football later," McBryde said. "(My) first three years (here as defensive coordinator), we were in the playoffs and we didn't do spring training."
After a season in which the Eagles changed up the offense a few times, switching from the wing-T they'd used since McBryde first took over in 2008 to more of a spread passing attack, Ellison coaches have combined the two philosophies into an offset-I look with an emphasis on returning to the run game.
"It's got throwing aspects and wing-T aspects to it. We simplified the passing game to fit our kids a little better," McBryde said. "We feel like that whether we've been in the spread or not, at Ellison we've always been able to run the ball, and (last year) we kind of got away from that and we're not going to do that. We're going to be in formations that are conducive to run the football."
With senior tailback Isiah Cowan (884 rushing yards) returning along with several others, the ground game shouldn't be a problem this year.
But one of the Eagles' big question marks is still quarterback, where senior DeSoto move-in Rasheed Dashiell is competing with last year's JV quarterback Trent Jones and Greg Bryant, a starter last season, to be the No. 1 option.
"I thought all the quarterbacks did really well," McBryde said. "They stayed focused throughout the workout and were working at getting better."