Cedarville football coach Kevin Lea was able to get on campus in time to begin evaluating his football team during spring drills. Which, for the first-year Pirates coach, will be important once Cedarville starts August practice.
"To me, it’s all about player evaluation," Lea said. "It’s all about who can play and who can’t. We’re going to be doing a few things different offensively and a few things different defensively. We don’t have Dillon Shelton anymore, who was a great drop-back passer. We’re going to do more option and miss direction."
Lea moved over from Lavaca, where he served as an assistant, to a program that ended the 2013 season in on a down note. The Bucs started 5-0 last season but finished 5-5 before forfeiting some wins. The Pirates, who will end spring drills June 6, started spring practice with 45 players.
Lea’s first order of business was move wide receiver Cruse Ray to quarterback.
"He’s a solid leader and he has a strong personality," Lea said. "I also like the fact that’s a multi-sport athlete. I hate that the world’s come to specialization."
The Pirates also return All-Conference receiver Abraham Hernandez.
Lea said he wants his players to adopt a "team first" attitude.
"I think most importantly we want the kids that are going to sell out for the program," he said.
Even though Booneville won a state title last year, coach Scott Hyatt doesn’t expect to dominate the 3A after dropping down from 4A.
But the veteran Booneville coach is happy to be back on a level playing field.
"Being at the bottom of 4A (in enrollment size) the last several years, it’s kind of nice to get down to playing teams that have kids playing both ways," Hyatt said. "We’ve been playing teams that have kids playing just offense or defense. By any means, we don’t think we’re going to drop down and just roll, but it should give us a little more level playing field."
Booneville won its third state title last fall, beating Warren 14-12 to cap a 15-0 season. Hyatt knows there are dominant 3A programs as well.
"It’s no different," he said. "Charleston, Prescott, Osceola, Rivercrest, Harding Academy … we’re not approaching it any different."
Booneville finished spring practice with 48, Hyatt said.
Like last season, Booneville will start the season with a young and inexperienced offensive line. R.J. Haynes is the lone returning offensive lineman.
"(Raymond) played last year and did a good job," Hyatt said. "We’re looking for a center, guard (and) tackle. Last year going into the spring our offensive line was a big question mark."
Defensive lineman Justin Shackleford is back, but there are openings for a couple of tackles and outside linebackers.
All-State fullback Bryson May, who ran for 1,394 yards and a school record 29 touchdowns last season, will lead the Bearcats’ offense. James Ray will step in as the starter at quarterback.
Second-year Charleston coach Greg Kendrick doesn’t have to tell his players when they play Booneville. The defending 3A champion Tigers face defending 4A champ Booneville on the ninth week of the 2014 season. And, though Kendrick has worked hard trying to keep his players focused on the task at hand, he knows the game of the year is going to be talked about … even in May.
"It’s human nature to talk about it," Kendrick said. "We tell our kids to worry about Week 9 is time wasted."
The Tigers, who mauled opponents on their way to the school’s fourth state title since 2005 last fall, have one of the state’s top quarterbacks in Ty Storey back in the fold. Charleston finished spring practice with 49 players, Kendrick said.
But the Tigers have some positions to fill at receiver and running back.
"We return seven starters on both sides of the ball," Kendrick said. "(But) complacency is a big thing we’re working on; trying to keep them hungry."
Replacing touchdown-maker Anthony Todaro and leading tackler Coby Graves won’t be easy, Lavaca coach Mark Headley said.
But the Golden Arrows, who have tweaked their nonconference schedule to include Union Christian and Waldron, have quarterback Hayden Headley, Luke Brown and Landon Graves back next season.
"We’re losing Todaro and Coby Graves and that’s going to be tough," Headley said. "Todaro was our offensive leader and Graves was our defensive leader. Those are two big spots to fill."
Headley will move Brown to running back and Graves’ younger brother Landon will take over on a full time basis at outside linebacker.
"We’ve got a really strong senior class, but a lot of them are going to have to play both ways," Headley said. "We’ve got some good kids, but they’re going to have to get into shape."
Headley said one of his concerns this spring was to develop some depth on the offensive line.
"We’re really thin on the line," he said. "Right now, our concern is developing some second and third stringers."
Coach Bryan Hutson has quietly turned the Eagles around since returning to his alma mater in 2007. Playing in the 3A-4 with two potential state champions, Charleston and Booneville, it’s unlikely the Eagles will win their first outright conference title since 1969.
But with 15 returning starters, the Eagles don’t expect to get pushed around.
Paris wrapped up spring practice with 42 players, Hutson said.
"We have several starters back, but I wanted to see competition for some spots, and I saw that," Hutson said. "It was a very productive spring."
Hutson believes there will be more than one good team left out of post-season play.
"There will be a very, very good team from our conference not make the playoffs," he said. "There’s not going to be a Friday night when you can relax."
The Eagles open the 2014 season against Centerpoint.
Mansfield coach Brandon Elmore may have one of the most improved teams in the 3A-4 this fall. The Tigers were scheduled to finish spring drills this week with 33 players, Elmore said.
Mansfield will return 16 starters, including nine on offense. Junior quarterback Christian Saygnaphay has had a good spring, Elmore said.
"He will be much improved," he said. "His mechanics are much better. We have a lot of kids coming back on both sides of the ball."
Elmore said the key thing this spring was to work in a new defensive scheme.
"We’re going back to something the kids are more familiar with," he said.
The Tigers open the season with Waldron.