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The Pirates have tremendous young talent among their quarterback hopefuls.
Kameron Kelly started five varsity games as a sophomore. It was a whirlwind of change for the young man who had begun the 2011 season on JV Black. He was bumped up to the next level for the Highland Park game (Oct. 7) where he led the Pirates to a 21-7 halftime advantage, a lead the Pirates held until the closing seconds of the contest.
Offensive coordinator Royce Slechta said, “Coaches had decided at the beginning of the week that he would be the starter come Friday. But no one told Kelly the news until five minutes before kickoff.”
Slechta said coaches didn’t want the decision to weigh heavy on the young athlete’s mind.
“He knew there was a chance he might play. All week, we knew we were going to start him. We just didn’t want him to have too much time to think about it.”
Kelly turned out to be a solid signal caller and a capable leader on the field. He has continued to develop in the interim and has reasserted himself as the projected starter heading into the fall. At 6-foot-2, Kelly has good size and he has increased his strength in the offseason.
Slechta said he is a dual-threat quarterback who leans toward throwing first, but he has the ability to take off when the situation calls for it. He is an explosive runner who moves very well.
“He is a good decision maker. At times, at the quarterback spot, you have to be a calculated risk taker. You have to know when to try to fit a ball into an area, and know when it’s not a good idea. He is proven to make good decisions,” said Slechta.
Kelly has also earned the respect of his teammates.
Slechta said, “He cares. That’s probably the biggest thing they notice. It means something to him.”
Coming up behind Kelly are several excellent young prospects.
“We have some pretty good youth behind him. We have a lot of guys who are going to be able to serve in that backup role,” said Slechta.
Carsen Cook, who spent last fall honing his skills on the freshmen squad, has emerged as the No. 2 option behind Kelly.
“Arm strength is his forte. Much like Kameron, he’s a competitor,” said Slechta.
Coaches prefer to play Cook on JV this fall to give him as much game experience as possible, but he could make the jump to varsity if a long-term need arises.
Jacob Polvado and Joseph Ewing, both varsity athletes who will play primarily with the defensive unit, are each capable of stepping in to quarterback a game in the event of an immediate need. Michael Kloza, a gifted athlete who split time at quarterback with Cook last season, could be another option.
The Pirates have more than a handful of athletes capable of carrying the ball with success. In addition to those who have past experience in the position, additional candidates have emerged through the spring’s crossover training.
Gary Bailey logged varsity reps in the spot last fall. Dontae Slay and Charles Okpoko carried the ball on JV. Those three have a chance to pick up playing time at the position in 2012.
T’Kevian Rockwell, Collin Mathers, Zach Myers and Preston Burnett are returning varsity athletes who played in the Pirates defensive unit last fall, but have drawn attention this spring for their potential at running back.
Running back coach John Rose said they are all in the mix to compete for a role and each one is very capable of playing the position.
“What it boils down to is which of those guys can perform without a coach in their ear when they’re all alone on the field. I’m looking for a guy who can get it done. During practice, coaches are there correcting, telling them where to go,” he said.
“We need a guy in our offense who can catch, who is fast, who can block and that is tough. That is going to narrow the field even more.”
Play recognition will be a key attribute of the player who wins the starter’s job.
Rose said decisions won’t be made until August. Coaches will want to look at how athletes finished the school year academically, view the impact of the summer conditioning program and see which players show up ready to go.
The Pirates have significant experience coming back in the secondary. At least five athletes come into 2012 with a year of varsity experience behind them.
Jarrell Brown, who started six games as a sophomore, will return at cornerback.
Secondary coach Terry Mills said, “He has great hips, really smart. He can be out there on an island by himself. He’s patient. He’s relaxed out there. He knows the game of football. Last year, as a sophomore, he was thrown in the fire. He handled it well. He knows what to expect. He knows how to prepare for a game on Friday night.”
Joseph Ewing was a key defensive player last season. He is expected to transition from safety to cornerback for his senior season. He has missed spring ball while recovering from an injury, but should be ready to go this fall.
Another player drawing good reviews is Ray Lea who started last year on JV Black.
“As far as experience and knowing what we are trying to accomplish on defense, he does a great job. He’s very consistent. It’s hard to get him off the field,” said Mills.
Leland Dotson, whose primary position is inside receiver, may also pick up reps in the secondary.
Preston Burnett and T’Kevian Rockwell are returning starters at safety.
“(Burnett) is going to come in and do exactly what we ask him to do. He’s a good looking kid, exactly what you’re looking for at safety. He can run. He’s not afraid of contact. He can play multiple positions,” said Mills.
As a sophomore last fall, Rockwell started at safety before moving to outside linebacker. Mills said safety is his natural position and he is drawing attention from major Division I programs there. It is his exceptional speed that sets him apart.
“He has track speed. He is one of the fastest kids in the nation,” said Mills.
Several other players move up from the JV ranks.
Mills said, “The guy that’s really been turning my head is Alex Menchaca. He’s good in the pass game, the run game; very physical. The sky is the limit with that kid.”
In addition to Burnett, Rockwell and Menchaca, athletes who could grab a share of playing are Elijah Harris and Jacob Polvado. Polvado comes over from the offensive side, but has a lot of upside as a safety according to Mills.
Altogether, it is an experienced group with good chemistry. That should make for a strong rotation and gives the team some flexibility if they need to move some players around to build up other areas.
Experienced receivers are bountiful as the Pirates prepare for the 2012 campaign.
On the outside are Freddy Gibbs and Alex Pina-Rhoden.
Gibbs will be a three-year starter. He started every game last fall and, as a sophomore, started eight games on the 2010 state semifinal team. Pina-Rhoden started all 10 games last fall.
They have an abundance of similarities and make an impressive tandem.
Outside receivers coach Dustin Loyd said, “Both are 6-foot-3. Both are 4.6 guys, very good hands, very physical, improving every day on their releases, route running, catching, finishing off routes, finishing off blocks. They have a lot of tools to make them successful.”
On the field, they routinely seek opportunities to get those extra yards after the catch and find ways to be more involved. They are strong leaders and are actively engaged in helping the younger players develop and progress.
Loyd said they have “upper level intangibles” that set them apart.
He said several players are crossing over from other positions that may provide depth on the outside. Those include Kalen Winkler and Alex Wesley, who are primarily used at slot receiver, and also Tyler Barber, Ramiro Gomez, Ja’Kweylon Oliver and Darius Carter.
Winkler, Wesley and Leland Dotson are pegged to start on the inside.
Inside receivers coach Joby Focke said, “All three have varsity experience and have all started some games. They are interchangeable, they can play multiple positions, and allow us flexibility to do a bunch of different stuff.”
Defensive players Jarrell Brown and Elijah Harris should also cross over and see action at inside receiver.
Focke said, “(Inside receivers) usually have to be one of the better athletes on the field because they are a hybrid of playing not just receiver but also running back or fullback depending on what we ask them to do. They have to be smart because we ask them to move around a lot. They have to do a lot of formations. They have to be adaptable.”
In addition, physical and mental toughness are major attributes.
“When it comes to running the ball, we’re not just having ours run off the field and run downfield. They have to block, and they usually have to block linebackers. They might not be as big as the guy they’re blocking. I’ve told them if you can’t block, you can’t play. I don’t care if you can run and catch the ball, if you can’t block for us, you can’t play for us,” said Focke.
Expect to see quite a few new faces among the Pirates linebacker corps.
Outside linebacker Keith Lilly is the only returning starter from last season’s unit and, on the inside, Zach Myers is the only player coming back with varsity experience. Both will be seniors in the fall.
Lilly started seven games as a junior in 2011 and has tied up a starting role for the upcoming season.
Coach Jody Aldridge, who has specific responsibility for outside backers, said, “The other side is open competition between Collin Mathers, Nick Morris, Cameron DeLand and Johnny Tran. Those are all seniors (in the fall) and they’re all great kids.”
Aldridge said several have moved over from other positions and are engaged in a learning process at this point.
“They’ve all done a great job so far this spring. It’s been a lot of fun having the competition because they’re all playing hard and competing,” he said.
While outside linebackers are typically more involved in pass coverage and need to be good open field tacklers, those guys on the inside are a bit more physical and generally more involved in slowing down an opponent’s running game.
Defensive coordinator Jimmy Carter takes the lead in coaching the inside linebackers.
Carter said they are looking at Myers and Ja’Vareyea Hicks, a sophomore who spent last fall building skills on JV Black, for starting roles.
“Those two have separated themselves from the bunch,” said Carter.
He said they are “consistent in their reads and fits, good tacklers, able to control the defense and get everybody lined up.”
Other promising candidates are Shane Potts, who will be a senior this fall; Devon Hughes and Grant Scott, who will be juniors; and Jacob Hunt, who will enter his sophomore season.
“The other guys are capable of playing. It’s just those two (Myers and Hicks) have separated themselves during the spring. After that, I’m not sure who the other guys would be,” said Carter.
With Myers expected to pick up additional time at tailback, there is likely to be a rotation in place so fresh players are available to provide a respite when needed.
Defensive line coach Kenny Wilkerson says the future is bright with the group of athletes he has competing for a role with the 2012 varsity.
KJ Rausaw, who will be a senior in the fall, returns for a second year in a starting role on the defensive front. With his skill set and motivation, Rausaw is a terrific dynamo to build around.
“He’s aggressive; he’s athletic; he’s very intelligent. All of that combined makes him a really good football player,” said Wilkerson.
Israel Acuay picked up reps on the defensive line late last season starting three games as a sophomore.
Wilkerson said, “He is tall, he’s so explosive. (During drills) He can jump on top of the 5-foot box from a dead standstill. He’s an amazing athlete.”
Other players who are “definitely competing for a spot” are Isaiah Hunt (who will be a senior) and Greyson Williams (who will be a junior).
Divine Rockwell, who played on the freshmen team last fall, is contending to start at nose guard.
It appears the defensive line will be in good shape for this fall campaign and into the future.
Wilkerson said, “We have a bunch of other really talented guys who are younger. We are going to have to see who rises to the top.”
There are specific attributes that make up a solid defensive lineman.
“Somebody who understands what their job is. They don’t try to do too much. They are very, very aggressive while being controlled. It’s actually kind of hard to have that controlled aggression,” said Wilkerson.
This is the first in a series of articles that will appear over the next two weeks as the Pirates prepare to showcase their talents in the May 24 spring game.
It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of any successful team’s offensive front. Those five young men set the tone for everything an offense does well, and the Pirates have a young, but good-looking group each working hard to secure a role for the fall.
Laurent Njiki, who will be a junior in the fall, is the only returning starter from a 2011 squad that was senior heavy on the offensive and defensive lines. Njiki is a sharp-minded athlete who has added size and strength since his inaugural varsity season. He has all the tools to be a premiere player.
Eric Betancourt, Dillon Bayless and John Copley are the only seniors-to-be in the group.
Betancourt gathered some varsity experience last fall and is competing for one of the tackle spots. Ryan Reynolds and Carlos Sanchez are also working for a role there.
Bayless, along with Victor Cheatham, Gabriel Imo and Brody Wright are under consideration at guard.
Copley has taken the majority of snaps at center, while Wright has also lined up in the spot.
Offensive line coach Roger Byrd said, there are “good, positive battles each day,” but the starting front won’t be set until August. That’s good news for several players who could be in the mix but are currently out with injury. Castin Neumeyer, Matthew Loomis, Alex Garza and Christian Elliott will have to make their best case once August two-a-days get under way.
Byrd said, “We have quite a few young men fighting for spots. They are dedicated to the program. They’re working real hard. The effort is there.”
Crossovers from the defensive side who are also under consideration on offensive line are K.J. Rausaw, Greyson Williams, Israel Acuay and Marc Guerra.
Byrd said camaraderie, the ability to work within a group, is the main thing he’s looking for as he considers which players will take over starting roles.
In addition to good chemistry within the group, Byrd said, “There are two things we put our hat on: for the running back, room to run; and for the quarterback, time to throw. Those are the two things we are always trying to achieve.”
Senior first baseman Mary Stephens grabbed District 10-4A MVP honors as voted by the district coaches. Against district opponents, Stephens batted .564 and reached base 75 percent of the time. She posted 22 hits and 28 RBIs on 14 singles, three doubles, two triples, three homeruns, 18 walks and no strikeouts. Defensively, her fielding success was 98 percent.
First-team honors went to senior centerfielder Alisa Hamilton, junior pitcher Meagan Richardson, junior catcher Ashlyn Pair, and freshman third baseman Serena Saldivar.
Second-team recognition went to shortstop Megan Slocum and leftfielder/second baseman Anna Saldivar, both juniors. Senior catcher Maddy Cook, who saw limited action due to injury, garnered honorable mention.
Eight players were acknowledged for success in the classroom and are listed among academic all-district recipients. They are Stephens, Richardson, Pair, Slocum, Anna Saldivar, Cook, Cheyenne Gehring and Emily Aldous.
Wylie finished the season as district runner up with a 12-2 record. They were crowned bi-district champs with a sweep of Frisco and earned the area crown with a win over Dallas Molina. They were knocked out of the playoffs in the third round by Frisco Wakeland.
Infielder and pitcher Drew Feuerbacher has signed with the Tigers of Ouachita Baptist University. OBU, located in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, is an NCAA Division II university competing in the Great American Conference. Parents are Brad and Belinda Feuerbacher.
Pitcher Robbie Petty has signed to play for the Bearcats of Lon Morris College. LMC is located in Jacksonville, Texas and competes in the National Junior College Athletic Association. Parents are Todd and Heather Petty.
Wrestler Gus Kortemeier, who competes in the 132-pound weight class, has claimed state titles in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling at the prestigious Texas USA Wrestling State Championships held May 19-20 at Lewisville High School. The feat included a victory over a four-time UIL state champion.
The senior now moves on to the USA Freestyle/Greco-Roman Junior National Championships, which will be held July 11-22 in Fargo, North Dakota. Kortemeier committed to Pratt Community College earlier this month.
The annual spring game kicks off at 6 p.m. Thursday at Wylie Stadium.
The maroon team coached by DC Jimmy Carter faces off against the white team coached by OC Royce Slechta. The teams will play four, non-stop, 15-minute quarters with a brief halftime break.
Varsity cheerleaders will be introduced prior to kickoff of the varsity game. Sponsors of the Pirates new football website (www.wyliepiratefootball.mobi) will be announced at halftime, as well as introductions of TWB drum majors, Pacesetter officers, and AFJROTC officers.
The freshmen scrimmage begins at 5 p.m. and will feature two 15-minute halves. Freshmen and JV cheerleaders will be introduced during this game.
There is no fee for admission; however, fans are asked to support the Wylie Christian Care Center with a donation of food or cash. Current needs are peanut butter, jelly, small bottles of cooking oil and canned vegetables.
Third baseman and pitcher Drew Feuerbacher was named team MVP for the 2012 season.
Second-baseman Cade Calhoun was honored as offensive MVP, and pitcher Robbie Petty received defensive MVP honors.
The AHMO award was presented to catcher Cody Dahl.
All four are seniors.
Chili’s Wylie hosted Tuesday's spirit night event to show their support for the Wylie Pirate Football program. Thanks Chili's!
Seniors Mary Stephens and Alisa Hamilton were named co-MVPs at Monday’s softball banquet.
Stephens also grabbed honors as offensive player of the year and Pirate Award recipient. Throughout her high school career, the first baseman was consistently among the most productive hitters in the DFW area. An all-around standout, she was also a tremendous defensive player and team leader.
Hamilton was a lefty slapper who batted leadoff. She used her explosive speed to elevate her on-base percentage and to make exceptional defensive plays in centerfield.
Both players were four-year starters at their respective positions.
Junior Meagan Richardson was chosen defensive player of the year, junior Anna Saldivar was honored with the Hustle Award and junior Cheyenne Gehring was recognized as most improved.
Pictured: shortstop Megan Slocum
The Lady Pirates were bumped out of the Class 4A playoffs with Saturday's 11-0 loss to Frisco Wakeland.
In other local playoff action, District 10-4A champion Rockwall clipped district rival McKinney 6-4 in the regional quarterfinals. The Lady Jackets face Forney in the regional semifinal.
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As the Pirates enter the second week of spring ball, head coach Bill Howard said he is “highly encouraged” by what he has seen so far.
Coaches are taking a slightly different approach to season preparation than they have in years past with the introduction of “crossover” training.
Players spend most of each practice sharpening skills in their primary position, but then add in prep time for a second position as well. For the most part, it’s just the logical move to other side of the ball. Linemen switch sides, linebackers turn into tailbacks, receivers step into the secondary, and vice versa.
Howard said, “When somebody does get hurt, or does get tired, or you need to rotate, your skill level doesn’t drop off as far. Building depth is important for a tough district and a long season, especially going into the playoffs.”
While the goal may be to build depth at all positions, there are subsidiary benefits.
“Offensive players get a better understanding of defense; defense gets a better understanding of offense. It gives the kids a good idea of what both sides are going through. I hope it’s making us a better team,” said Howard.
Preston Burnett, a junior who started in the secondary last fall, said the crossover training helps him identify with what his opponent is thinking, and he said it actually makes him a better player in his primary position.
In the end, Howard said, “We have a lot of kids who are going to be able to help us on both sides of the ball which gives us a lot more depth. I think we are going to be able to come out with 22 starters who don’t have to play both sides of the ball, but most of the backups will be playing both sides of the ball.”
Pictured: Ashlyn Pair, Emily Aldous
Wylie plays Frisco Wakeland in a regional quarterfinal match, at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at McKinney Boyd HS. Tickets are $3 students; $5 adults.
Pictured: Pitcher Meagan Richardson
Wylie clipped Dallas Molina 15-0 in five innings in Friday's single game playoff. Serena Saldivar smacked a home run; Mary Stephens recorded a double. Meagan Richardson was the winning pitcher.
The Lady Pirates will meet Frisco Wakeland in the regional quarterfinals. The one-game playoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 11, at Lovejoy. Wylie will be visitors.
Tickets are $3 students, $5 adults.
In other playoff action, Rockwall walloped Seagoville 21-0, and McKinney defeated Hillcrest 17-0, 13-0 in a best-of-three series. Rockwall and McKinney will face off in the next round.
Pictured: Laurent Njiki, started all 10 games on o-line last fall
The Pirates return six starters on the offensive side of the ball, plus 10 others with varsity experience.
It starts up front with Laurent Njiki. The big offensive lineman, who will be a junior this fall, started every game on the left side in 2011. There will be some big shoes to fill on that line with multiple players moving into the college ranks, but a promising group of candidates are already lining up to grab a spot.
A receiving corps that returns five experienced athletes should be an area of strength. Freddy Gibbs, Alex Pina-Rhoden and Alex Wesley all started multiple games for the Pirates last season. Gibbs will be in his third year as a starter. All three have good height with long arms and good hands. Also in the good-hands category is Kalen Winkler, who had his share of minutes at receiver, while also serving as a solid punter and the holder on PATs. Throw in Leland Dotson who had significant reps at receiver as well.
Kameron Kelly, who enters his junior year in the fall, stepped in at quarterback for the Pirates last five games of 2011. Having come up from JV Black in his initial varsity appearance, Kelly led the Pirates to a near upset of Highland Park. Jacob Polvado will compete with Kelly for the starting role. In any case, both athletes will have a place on the Friday night grass.
Tailback Gary Bailey was used primarily as a second back last season but did get a share of starts at the position. He will compete for minutes with a very athletic group of newcomers.
Additional reports will be forthcoming as spring football progresses and things start to shake out for the fall roster assignments. Check back daily for the latest Pirates football news.
The Pirates defense returns six starters from the 2011 squad
Pictured: K.J. Rausaw works against an opposing o-linemen last fall
The Pirates will return six defensive starters from the 2011 squad.
Most of that experience is bundled in the secondary with Preston Burnett, Joseph Ewing, Jarell Brown and T’Kevian Rockwell coming into 2012 with significant varsity exposure. Three starters are lost to graduation, but because of the way the unit rotated players in and out during games last fall, there was plenty of time on the grass for the entire unit.
The defensive line will build around K.J. Rausaw who will earn his third varsity letter. Israel Acuay, who saw limited varsity action last season, could be a bright spot in the rebuilding process.
Returning starter Keith Lilly is the lone remainder among a linebacker corps that graduated three multi-year starters. Zach Myers, a returning letterman, gathered some Friday night experience last year as well.
Check back tomorrow for information on returning players on offense.
Spring Football is now underway. UIL allows Class 4A and 5A schools to conduct 18 practices over a period of 30 consecutive days in the spring. Visit this site regularly to get the scoop on how the Pirates are coming together and getting ready to make a run at the playoffs in 2012.