By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON - With a bevy of offensive starters returning from last season's co-District 12-5A champion squad - including University of Texas quarterback commit David Ash - the Belton Tigers face high expectations around every corner.
Following the completion of Friday's Red-White spring scrimmage, in which the White team rallied past Ash's Red team 27-21, those expectations aren't going away any time soon.
"Our goal after Wednesday was to say we could line up and play a football game, and obviously, other than conditioning, I think we could," Belton head coach Rodney Southern said. "... I'd say we're right where we need to be."
Ash, who is fully recovered from offseason knee surgery, finished 12-of-21 for 212 yards and three touchdowns, but threw a costly interception on the Red team's fourth offensive possession and couldn't lead his team on a final game-winning drive.
"The big thing we were looking for is he's got to throw to people not named (graduating receivers) Kevin Thornton and Jeff Lepak," Southern said. "I thought he looked (good). He handled the pocket, he made one bad throw on that interception - and he shouldn't have thrown that ball - but physically he's exactly where he needs to be."
Ash connected with junior Adrian Henderson and new target Ranger Burba on multiple occasions as the Red offense scored on its first three possessions, including long touchdown passes of 43 and 36 yards to Burba. Both are being counting on to replace Thornton and Lepak, who combined for 76 receptions and 921 yards receiving. Also seeing time at receiver, while splitting White team duties at quarterback, was last year's backup Jonathan Paysee.
But while most defenses will be scheming to stop Ash, it was the running of senior tailback Kenny Shuler that had many at Tiger Stadium talking.
Bouncing off tacklers left and right, and breaking off first-down runs almost every time he touched the ball, Shuler showed the Belton coaching staff they have a talented running game to go along with Ash's aerial attack.
"Kenny doesn't know but one speed - and that's full speed," Southern quipped. "He's been healthy all spring, he understands what we're doing, and he had a great track year - which for me was one of the biggest things for him because he needed to get faster."
Shuler, who never fully recovered from an ankle injury he suffered early last season, powered the White offense with a pair of second-half short-yardage scores after busting off several bigger runs early in the drives.
Along with the running of Shuler, Southern commended the snapping of White team center Michael Gall, a 275-pounder looking to replace graduated two-year starter Cooper Smith.
The top defense in District 12-5A a year ago was without returning first-team all-district linebacker Tyler Vail, who's still involved in the Belton baseball team's playoff run.
Although both offenses moved the ball at will during the first half - which the Red team led 21-12 at the break - it was two second-half defensive stands by the White team that proved to be the difference, including the key interception by senior-to-be Kris McCarthy.
Contact Alex Byington at email@example.com or (254) 501-7566.