Dawgs get delayed football season underway
By TJ MAXWELL
More than six months since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and athletic programs nationwide, the Copperas Cove Bulldawgs, under the leadership of first-year head coach and athletic director Jason Hammett, suited up and hit the practice field this week to kick off the delayed 2020 football season.
“It feels great to be out playing football,” said Hammett during the team’s Thursday morning practice session. “That’s what the goal was from the beginning – to play football.”
Just four days into the practice season, the team had to worry about staying warm rather than worry about heat-related illnesses normally associated with early-season practices.
“It’s been weird,” said Hammett. “We’ve had a lot of weather issues. We got out in the rain yesterday and practiced. It’s a different feel for the fourth day of practice. It’s usually 105 degrees and now it’s 60.”
The enhanced safety protocols of the pandemic also throw a wrench in the plan for Hammett and his staff who already have their work cut out with new leadership at the top and a lot of new faces on the staff and the roster.
“It’s in our minds constantly,” he said. These kids don’t think about it as much as they should. We’re yelling about wearing masks. They’re all wearing neck gaiters and they can pull them down when they need to breathe, but they need to have it up most of the time. When we’re inside, we have them up all the time. It’s just a new mindset. We’re sanitizing the weight room, we think about how long kids go in the locker room. All the things we kind of took for granted before now are in the forefront of our minds.”
Easing that transition is some experience in some key positions returning to the lineup for the 2020 iteration of the Bulldawgs.
A goup of experienced players will bring stability to both sides of the ball.
“I think our linebacking corps is definitely a strength for us,” said Hammett. “We have Kendall Parker and Benny Shumaker. They played a lot last year a lot and they’re returning. I see that as a real strength for our team.
“On the offensive side, we have our running backs. We were blessed the last two years to have two really good running backs in Shontez Simmons and Micah Cox, but those two guys are gone, and they took a ton of reps the last two years. Brandon Ortega, Brody Sanders and Josiah Key are three guys that took a lot of reps for us on JV and varsity in the last couple of years and they are ready to step up for us.”
Hammett also has a healthy battle brewing at the quarterback position between senior Russel Cochran, who was injured in the first game of the season last year allowing now junior Shane Richey to get some valuable experience.
“Every other rep, they are switching,” Hammett said of the quarterback battle. “It’s a competition right now. The story I tell the kids is, ‘you put two horses together, one of the pulls 1,000 pounds and the other pulls 1,000 pounds. You put them together, they can pull 5,000 pounds. When those two horses are loaded up with that cart, they know they have to out-compete the other guy and that’s what these guys are doing right now. They’re competing super hard. It’s an open competition, not just at quarterback, but every one of our positions are like that. We’re lucky to have two guys that can compete.”
A senior group that is all in will also help Hammett and the team get where they need to be.
“We still have a lot of unknowns and question marks, but the best thing about it is the senior group have really jumped on board about making what their senior year is going to be about,” said Hammett. “I’ve got a core group of seniors that have done everything we ask and they want this season to be great.”
The amount of bodies at each position is Hammett’s biggest concern.
“Depth is always going to be our issue,” he said. “We’re one of the smallest 6A schools in the state. If we recounted right now, we’d probably be 5A today, partly because of COVID. We can’t just say oh pitiful us or whatever, but we do have some depth issues across the board.
“Last year we had an injury bug. We had some depth until that happened. This year, we have some places where we don’t have a ton of depth, so we’re going to need some kids to step up and play. Whether they be young kids or older kids that have worked their way into those roles. The offensive line is one of those places where we don’t have a lot of depth, but we have some really good players with McKenzie Agnello coming back his year. It’s the same way on the defensive line, in the secondary and at receiver. We don’t have a lot of depth, but the guys are competing really hard.”
Hammett will know more about his squad and how they fit into the District 12-6A picture after this week’s scrimmages.
“Saturday, we’ll have an intersquad scrimmage and Thursday we’ll have a real scrimmage and we’ll see how those two things go,” said Hammett.
Hammett knows things will have to go according to plan if they want to stake their claim to one of the four playoff spots available in the revamped 12-6A landscape.
“I would say Shoemaker is right there at the top with Temple in terms of players,” said Hammett. “They played so many young ones that were good last year and they’re mostly all back. Belton is an unknown. I don’t really even know their scheme or what they got. I know their quarterback is back and he was a really good player last year and Belton will be formidable as well. Temple was the youngest team in the district last year and they’re all back. They will be tough of course. Harker Heights have been building what they’re doing. They have some really good players coming back as well. Ellison surprises people every once in a while, but they have some really good kids on their end as well.
“It’s going to be tough in the district. It’s just how the pendulum swings for you. Two years ago, we were 7-3 and things swung our way. Then last year, we were in so many close games, but we couldn’t figure out a way to win them for whatever reason. We had some injuries and a few other issues. We put our kids up there with those people, we just have to make sure we’re ahead on our end and getting ready to play.”