Copperas Cove head football coach and athletic director Jack Welch knows he has his work cut out as a coach to get his young and inexperienced squad ready for the fall and the brutal slate of games facing the Dawgs. Times like these, however, excite the coach beginning his 22nd year at the helm for the Bulldawgs. “We are a new ballclub,” said Welch. “We are a very inexperienced ball club, one of the most inexperienced ball clubs I have ever fielded here at Copperas Cove. But, it’s an exciting time and it’s an exciting group. We’re very inexperienced and in most terms that spell tough times ahead, but for me, it’s exciting times ahead because you’re going to see guys rise to the challenge.” The main focus of the first week for Welch and his staff was getting this kids fit and focused and he likes what he’s seeing in those regards. “I think we have progressed excellently conditioning-wise and that was the goal for this week and just review because we’re going to put our pads on and it’s game time,” he said. “This is not the start of football for us. This is a continuation. We did all the learning in the spring. Their retention was great. We’re in shape. We took these four days and we ran hard and the guys are feeling good about themselves.” The Dawgs are young at almost every position, including the quarterback position. That position got a bit younger when spring frontrunner Michael Hays opted to focus on his promising baseball career which left the door wide open for incoming junior Caine Garner. Garner shined as the quarterback for the Junior Varsity Gold team last year and has shown flashes of brilliance through spring ball and took all most all of the snaps in 7-on-7 through the summer. Welch is happy with the way things worked out for both guys. Hays  gets to focus on his budding baseball career after pushing Garner in the spring. “I really appreciate Michael  (Hays) giving football a shot,” said Welch. “How it worked out was a blessing to him and to Caine (Garner). It’s good to get guys who are pretty competitive, competing. Michael was leading one day and Caine the next and the competition was good.” In the end, the team’s style of play was probably more suited for Garner anyway, says Welch. “Both quarterbacks were developing a little bit differently with Michael more of a passer and Caine more of a runner,” he said. “With our  football team, Caine is probably a little more suited for what our team is doing now but if Michael would’ve been the guy we would have (adjusted). I think the competition between the two really helped Caine. Also, not taking every rep and being able to watch, that was mental rep. I think it helped. Now he’s getting the reps as the number one guy and you can see the development in just these four days.” Hays, who is getting a lot of looks from college baseball scouts, will focus on his chosen sport. “(Michael) understood what he really wanted to do his senior year,” said Welch. “He’s a good baseball player and I think he’s going to have a good senior year. I think he’s more focused and that will make him a better baseball player. We’re excited for him. This is all about kids. We’re in the education business.” With the injury to recordsetting quarterback Manny Harris in the third game of the season last year still firmly implanted in the minds of fans, Welch knows the importance of having a number two quarterback ready and he feels he has several guys that can step in to fill the role in a pinch. “It’s a good battle,” Welch said about the backup and JV positions. “We’ve got some guys that are playing receiver on varsity that can fill in at quarterback. We’ve also got a couple young guys that are battling for the JV spot and back-up spot. The thing we don’t want to do is take a pretty good youngster and put him on the bench.” Wide receiver Gabe Williams and running back Kylan Herrera have taken snaps while sophomore JaylenSmith and junior Tyler Lea are also in the mix, but likely will stay on the JV so the can develop. “I’m a little different than most people. If we have to do it, I’ll do it,” said Welch abouthaving his JV quarterbacks on the varsity. “I really like to a little thinner on varsity and have those kids developing on JV because I have two JV teams so I try to make sure I have two really good JV quarterbacks. The most important thing is, not which team they’re on, but getting to play and progress.”  The Dawgs players and staff, along with fans, will get a glimpse of what they can expect from this year’s team when they put on pads today  and hold their annual Soap, Shampoo and Towel scrimmage  tomorrow morning. “Saturday, I’m looking for a real in-tune scrimmage  where everything is clicking,” said Welch. “You want things  to go smooth. You don’t want to have miscues and you want everything clicking. You want  to see guys in tune and grooving together.” “The competition and  tradition here has risen to a level that, if you’re not in tip-top shape with a tip-top  attitude and if you’re not tiptop about what you’re doing,  you’re not going to make it. That doesn’t mean you’ll have the greatest team in the state of Texas. It just means, on this team, you have everybody focused. The Dawgs again face a murder’s row preseason  schedule where they will face A&M Consolidated and Lake Travis on the road to begin the season before returning home  for contests against Round Rock and Schertz-Clemens. The Dawgs kick off District  12-6A play against Killeen at Leo Buckley Stadium on Sept. 24.  “Our first four ball games  are as tough of games as anybody in the state plays,” said  Welch. “Most people are thinking we’re going to take  it on the chin, but I don’t look at things like that. I’m thinking  it’s a great opportunity to see what we’ve got to do to  continue to grow and build and that’s what you need with a new team. They need to see where they’ve got to be. A lot of these kids played JV last year so it will be a shock to them when they line up against A&M Consolidated and Lake Travis but we try to take that shock level out in our practices and scrimmages so I think we’ll be ready.” For Welch, these scrimmages and preseason games are just about getting the team ready for district play and beyond. “Our program is not just about wins and losses, it’s about perpetuating itself,” said Welch. “We are one of the smallest 6A programs that continually put out an exciting, tough group of kids. The competition and tradition here has risen to a level that, if you’re not in tip-top shape with a tip-top attitude and if you’re not tip-top about what you’re doing, you’re not going to make it. That doesn’t mean you’ll have the greatest team in the state of Texas. It just means, on this team, you have everybody focused.”

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