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Published: Saturday, September 5, 2020

WILDCATS BEGIN AGAIN

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By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com   

     If there was one year when Temple really needed to have a full four-week session of spring football practices, 2020 was it.

     As the Wildcats seek their eighth straight playoff berth, they're trying to prepare a first-year starting quarterback. They'll have four new starters on the offensive line along with several receivers who lack varsity experience. Their defense includes a slew of young players who were pressed into action last season, plus several inexperienced newcomers.

     But even though fifth-year head coach Scott Stewart certainly wanted and greatly could have used an extended on-field look at the players who will make up Temple's 2020 team, the COVID-19 pandemic had other ideas, which included a complete cancelation of spring football action.

     So as the Wildcats get ready to begin fall practice Monday morning in advance of their Sept. 25 season opener against Longview, Stewart is hungry to make up for lost time as he tries to build the best team possible.

     “Spring ball would've been huge. The thing I told the kids the other day was, 'Guys, I haven't seen any of you play football since November.' So losing spring ball this year for us was critical,” said Stewart, who has a 38-14 record and four playoff appearances with the Wildcats. “I can't in good conscience fill out a varsity roster (right now). Our varsity roster will be set on September 19 after the (Sept. 17) College Station scrimmage.”

     Temple will practice in helmets, practice jerseys and shorts Monday and Tuesday, then add shoulder pads Wednesday through Friday before the Wildcats get into full pads for the first time Saturday. Their only scrimmage is against familiar opponent College Station on Thursday, Sept. 17 at Wildcat Stadium.

     Temple's season opener is against Longview – ranked No. 3 in Class 5A Division I by Texas Football magazine – on Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. It will be the Wildcats' second consecutive game against the powerful Lobos, who beat them 41-10 last November in a 6A Division II bi-district playoff game in Longview.

     After a game at Magnolia West on Oct. 2, Temple will play its home opener against 6A No. 11-ranked Arlington Martin at 7 p.m. on Oct. 9. After sharing last year's District 12-6A championship with nemesis Waco Midway, the Wildcats' 12-6A opener this year comes Oct. 16 at Copperas Cove, followed by their district home opener Oct. 23 against Bryan.

     Incoming junior running back Samari Howard was the 12-6A Offensive Newcomer of the Year after rushing for 966 yards and 13 touchdowns and also performing spot duty at quarterback, and linebacker Taurean York shared 12-6A's Defensive Newcomer of the Year award after starting every game and leading the 8-3 Wildcats with 80 tackles.

     Temple's top returning seniors include wide receivers A.J. McDuffy (22 receptions, 364 yards, six touchdowns) and Luke Allen, offensive tackle Alex Rodriguez, defensive linemen Jayven Taylor (66 tackles, four sacks) and Cody Little, cornerback Keon Williams and kicker Aaron Wagaman, entering his fourth season as the starter. Junior tackle Colby Rice has the most experience among the other offensive linemen.

     Devan Williams was projected to start at cornerback as a junior but moved away, giving sophomore cornerback Triston Cohorn – a converted running back – an opportunity to compete for a starting job. Starting defensive lineman Isaiah Fach suffered a season-ending knee injury halfway through his junior season, and Stewart said Wednesday he wasn't expecting Fach to play football as a senior.

     Defensive end Eric Shorter was a second-team all-district selection last year as a sophomore, but Stewart said it's unclear if Shorter will be eligible for varsity play this season after he moved out of Temple ISD and then returned.

     Plenty of eyes will be on Temple sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot, who was a second-team all-district safety last season (46 tackles, one interception) after starting all 11 games as a freshman but likely will move to the other side of the ball this season. After the graduation of 12-6A Offensive Player of the Year Vance Willis, the 6-foot, 180-pound Harrison-Pilot – son of Temple linebackers coach Chris Pilot – is contending to become the Wildcats' starting quarterback as a sophomore.

     Although Stewart likes the prospect of talented athlete Harrison-Pilot becoming a rare three-year starting quarterback, he realizes that Temple's offense has produced success with a different starting QB (Reid Hesse, T.J. Rumfield, Jared Wiley, Willis) in each of Stewart's four years at the helm.

     “It absolutely does (sound appealing),” Stewart said of Harrison-Pilot potentially starting three seasons at quarterback. “The other side of that coin is that the last four (Temple senior starting QBs) have been the (district) offensive MVP. It's worked for what we've done. We've just got to see how this plays out. What I do love the most is that there's competition.”

     That competition comes in the form of senior Humberto Arizmendi, a junior varsity quarterback last season who's a skilled passer. Although Harrison-Pilot is a true dual-threat QB whose running ability will challenge defenses, Temple's coaching staff is giving Arizmendi an opportunity to prove he deserves playing time.

     “Mikal brings things to the table that Humberto doesn't, and Humberto brings stuff (also) and he can absolutely spin it. It changes the style (of the offense) and you probably have a different mentality when he's in there, but that's not good or bad,” Stewart said. “The learning curve for Mikal is going to be what the tell-tale is. Obviously his leg threat (is important). He ran a 22(-second) 200 (meters) as a freshman, and we only had two track meets.

     “He can flat-out go and he can throw the ball a country mile. He's starting to hit those windows. We do some sort of 7-on-7 every day, and he's going to need a thousand reps. He's very intelligent, and so is Humberto. Both kids are very savvy. They're the same style with passing. I might give Humberto the edge a little bit just because that's his wheelhouse, and then obviously Mikal (has the advantage) with the run threat.”

     Stewart is excited about the potential of junior receiver Michael Heckstall, younger brother of former Temple standout receiver D'Yonte Heckstall, who helped the Wildcats reach the 5A Division I state championship game in 2016. Stewart said Temple has a large group of slot receivers contending for playing time, including 6-3 senior Dylan Hinkle and Jonah Walker, who moved in from Killeen.

     “We've got six, maybe seven slot receivers who are really close to each other, and I'm not carrying six slots on our varsity football team,” Stewart said. “We've got a bunch of the same kid. What they're all good at is catching the ball and running routes. I told them, 'I want to see you go block a 6-foot-2 safety that doesn't want to be blocked. Who's going to pour their guts into that? That's what's going to get you on varsity.'”

     On defense, safety O.T. Peoples, linebackers Marshall Grays and Faylin Lee and 6-5, 235-pound lineman Tomas Torres all return after getting significant playing time as sophomores in the playoff game at Longview.

     “When you have two classes in a row that just aren't deep with talent, you've kind of got to plan for the future,” Stewart said. “So last year we knew if we could score a ton of points we'd be OK, because we were going to struggle on defense or at least take some learning bumps, if you will.”

     Stewart said he was able to retain both coordinators – Josh Sadler on offense and Dexter Knox on defense – for the first time since he's been Temple's head coach but had to hire five new assistant coaches during the offseason. Among them is defensive line coach Robert Havens, now in his second stint with the Wildcats after leaving for Magnolia West following the 2018 season.

     Even while lamenting the loss of a traditional spring practice schedule that annually culminates with the Blue-White game, Stewart said the University Interscholastic League's decision to allow athletes to go through on-campus supervised strength and conditioning workouts and then sport-specific drills during the summer months actually has been a boon for Temple. That's because the Wildcats' work has come closer to the start of their season instead of ending in late May.

     “The benefit has been that you don't lose anything during the summer,” said Stewart, who added that Temple will begin its 2021 season by hosting Austin Westlake, last year's 6A Division II state champion.

     Stewart said there's been another benefit about COVID-19 throwing a wrench into Temple's original spring football plans.

     “I'll tell you what, it makes you take a look at your organizational skills,” he said. “At that point (in early March) when they shut (school) down and it got close to spring ball, and then they shut down spring ball, it was like, 'If they open it Monday, here's our plan between now and the end of summer. If they open it up the next Monday, we'll just abbreviate the plan.' So (the coaches) met ad nauseam on just organizational stuff.

     “We had a four-week spring ball plan, a three-week spring ball plan and a two-week spring ball plan, and after that it was like, 'One week ain't gonna be worth it, so now let's plan our summer and what that looks like.'”

READY TO GET GOING: After Temple's four weeks of spring football practice were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fifth-year head coach Scott Stewart and the Wildcats begin fall practices Monday morning as they move toward their Sept. 25 season opener against state-ranked Longview at Arlington's AT&T Stadium. Temple has gone 8-3 in each of the last two seasons. The Wildcats seek their eighth straight playoff trip but their first postseason win since 2017. (Photo by Greg Wille/TempleBeltonSports.com)

Published: Friday, August 7, 2020

GO WEST, YOUNG MAN

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BANDON-BOUND: Temple resident and 2018 Belton graduate William Paysse, shown practicing at Wildflower Country Club in Temple, will play in the U.S. Amateur Championship on Monday and Tuesday at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. It's the first U.S. Amateur appearance and second USGA event for the 20-year-old Paysse, who earned first-team All-SEC and honorable mention All-American honors as a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M. Paysse's older brother Andrew will be his caddie at Bandon Dunes. (Photo by Greg Wille/TempleBeltonSports.com)

Perseverance, improvement at Texas A&M lead Belton grad

William Paysse to first U.S. Amateur trip at Bandon Dunes

By Greg Wille

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com

    William Paysse produced a successful career in junior golf.

    As a Belton High School sophomore in 2016 he qualified for the Class 6A state tournament as an individual and tied for 19th place at Legacy Hills in Georgetown, then two months later the Temple resident made the cut and finished 49th in his first Texas Amateur at Oak Hills in San Antonio.

    One summer later, Paysse competed in the 2017 U.S. Junior Amateur at Flint Hills National in Kansas and played his second straight Texas Amateur at Lakewood in Dallas. He also recorded several high finishes in American Junior Golf Association and Texas Legends Junior Tour tournaments.

    But after Paysse reported to the Texas A&M campus to begin his college golf career in the fall 2018 semester, what he initially experienced with the Aggies wasn't exactly smooth sailing. And that was despite having a good general idea about what to expect considering his older brother Andrew played four years for A&M's golf team from 2014-18.

    “The fall I got there was just a huge I guess you could say wake-up call for me,” William Paysse said this week at Temple's Wildflower Country Club while preparing to compete in his first U.S. Amateur Championship next week at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. “Coming out of Belton and being one of the better players here, it was kind of the standard situation of going to a big college and going, 'Wow, there's a lot more guys who can do this.' They were certainly better (than I was).

    “I think my qualifying scoring average that fall was the second-worst on the team, like ninth out of 10. So it was a wake-up call of, 'I've got to start working harder than those guys to catch up,'” he added. “My swing mechanically wasn't very good or wasn't working, and coming to A&M, school was a lot harder. It was a lot of things – maturity and just that new experience for me took a while to get used to. The 6 a.m. workouts, study hall, everything takes a toll at the beginning. It still is (a wake-up call).”

    However, as the 20-year-old Paysse travels to the southwestern Oregon coast to contend in the most prestigious tournament of his golfing life next Monday and Tuesday and perhaps through the weekend, he's a much-improved player and more mature person than he was as an 18-year-old A&M freshman.

    In fact, as a redshirt freshman during the COVID-19-shortened 2019-20 season, Paysse earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference recognition and honorable mention status on PING's NCAA Division I All-American Team. He recorded his first college tournament victory, added two third-place finishes and tied A&M's single-round record with a 63 at the Dye's Valley course at TPC Sawgrass while posting a 71.62 stroke average in seven tournaments.

Taking his game to the West Coast

    The 120th U.S. Amateur will feature two of Bandon Dunes' five 18-hole courses – the original Bandon Dunes layout and Bandon Trails – for 36 holes of stroke play to trim the 264-player field to 64 for match play competition, which begins Wednesday on the Bandon Dunes course alongside the Pacific Ocean.

    Playing in his second USGA championship and with brother Andrew alongside as his caddie, Paysse will tee off Monday at 11:57 a.m. PDT at Bandon Trails, the 2005 Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design that's the most inland, wind-protected course on the sprawling property.

    For the second round, Paysse will tee off at 7:44 a.m. PDT on Bandon Dunes, the 21-year-old rugged links track that ranks No. 7 on Golf Digest's list of America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (Bandon Trails is No. 14). Paysse's playing partners are Henry Shimp of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Ben Sigel of Deephaven, Minnesota.

    For Paysse, advancing to the 64-man match play battle – less than 25 percent of the competitors will make it – is the top priority in his first visit to Bandon Dunes.

    “Your first goal is to get inside that cut line,” he said. “It's a different process. To get my mind right, I'm trying to win stroke play, but in the back of your mind you know you don't have to. It's just trying to eliminate huge mistakes. In that format, cutting it to so few players compared to how many guys there are, one stroke here or there is huge when it comes to the end.

    “I'm excited. Once you get to match play, it's just one (opponent) at a time and just see how far you can take it.”

    Paysse will be joined by two Texas A&M teammates in the U.S. Amateur. Walker Lee is No. 72 in the world amateur rankings and Sam Bennett is No. 124. Also competing is incoming Aggies freshman Daniel Da Costa Rodrigues of Portugal, ranked No. 52.

Taking on the amateur elite

    The U.S. Amateur is the culmination of Paysse's busy summer schedule of elite tournaments.

    In early July at the North & South Amateur Championship at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, he shot 3-under-par 67 on the famed Pinehurst No. 2 course and 2-under 68 on the No. 4 course to tie for fourth in stroke play. In the opening round of match play, Paysse built a 2-up lead on Gordon Sargent through 13 holes, but Vanderbilt commitment Sargent won three of the next four holes and staved off Paysse for a 1-up win despite Paysse's 2-under score.

    Paysse struggled in mid-July's Southern Amateur at Maridoe in Carrollton, missing the 36-hole cut with a 10-over 154. Playing last week's Western Amateur at Crooked Stick, the brawny Pete Dye design in Carmel, Indiana, he rebounded well with a 2-under 70 in the first round to share 16th place. However, uncharacteristic three-putts hindered Paysse during a second-round 75 and he missed the tournament's first cut by one stroke.

    “It's been up-and-down with my playing,” Paysse said of his summer. “It's the learning curve of junior golf to college golf, and then I'd never played in those (top-level amateur) tournaments before. There's another step to take when you're playing 156 guys in the Western Am who are all very good golfers. They're all going to compete and they all played really well to get there, so it's more of a learning process for me.

    “I tend to beat myself up about results sometimes, but I obviously played good golf to get there, so I know I'm capable of it. It's just trying to play well at the right time.”

Seasoned brother on the bag

    With Paysse never before having seen the Bandon Dunes courses, he could have chosen to use a local caddie for the U.S. Amateur to pick up some insider advice. However, he's grown comfortable and confident with his brother Andrew – who turns 25 on Monday – carrying the bag. After their father, Kenny, caddied for William in the North & South Amateur, Andrew took over for the Southern and Western Amateurs.

    William Paysse sits at No. 205 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, down from a career-best 95th earlier this summer. Andrew, who won the 5A individual state championship as a Belton junior in 2013, reached No. 162 in the WAGR and as an amateur placed fourth in the 2017 Texas State Open at Trinity Forest in Dallas.

    Andrew had some success playing professional golf after graduating from A&M in 2018, shooting a final-round 62 in the Texas State Open at Tyler's The Cascades Club to finish as runner-up and earn a $22,500 check. He then played 10 tournaments in Canada on the PGA Tour-sanctioned Mackenzie Tour before returning to Temple to work for his father's insurance agency along with oldest brother Jonathan, 27, a former multi-sport standout at Belton who's also a skilled and avid golfer.

    With so much competitive experience under his belt, Andrew now finds it rewarding to caddie for William and watch the youngest Paysse's game make large strides.

    “It's fun. It's been really cool to see him play in prestigious tournaments like this,” Andrew said. “It's fun for me being on the other side. It's easy for me and I've enjoyed it. He's pretty good. He's definitely learned a lot the last few years with his course management and strategy. He's thinking what I'm thinking most of the time.”

    William said it's been a gradual progression for he and Andrew to form a strong on-course partnership.

    “I used to not like Andrew on the bag as much, just because we'd kind of butt heads when I was younger. But I think we've both maybe matured, or whatever it is. It's gotten a little bit easier and he knows my game pretty well now,” said William, who will turn 21 on Oct. 20. “Last year I played the U.S. Amateur qualifier at Mira Vista (in Fort Worth) and he caddied me for all 36 holes. I played really well and got second alternate. As far as his caddying, that led me to think it could keep working and we'd keep doing it.”

Planning for Bandon

    William was scheduled to play one practice round each at Bandon Trails and Bandon Dunes this weekend and said he and Andrew were planning to get some helpful tips from a local caddie they've contacted. William said he's studied Google Earth images of the Bandon courses to develop ideas for strategy.

    The biggest adjustment might be transitioning from playing in hot, humid conditions to the cool, windy weather at seaside Bandon Dunes, where temperatures Monday and Tuesday should be in the low-50s to mid-60s.

    “I'm not a big pants guy,” William said, laughing. “It'll be a little bit of an adjustment. Luckily I'm getting there a few days before. But the ball certainly won't travel as far as it does here when it's 100 degrees.”

    Paysse said his straight driving, steady putting and ability to control his ball's trajectory in the wind all give him confidence that he can score well on the Bandon courses.

What a difference a year makes

    After Paysse and A&M coach J.T. Higgins – whom he described as a motivating force – mutually agreed to have him sit out the 2018-19 competitive season as a redshirt (the Aggies tied for fifth in the NCAA Division I national tournament), a determined Paysse dedicated himself to putting in the work and time to a become a standout performer.

    The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Paysse has taken full advantage of A&M's strength and conditioning program, notably improving his legs and core. He began to see major improvement midway through his redshirt year as he continued to compete in A&M's tournament qualifying rounds, then he came into the 2019-20 season hungry and better prepared to make his mark.

    Late last October, Paysse recorded his first college victory in the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate by posting a 7-under 209 total for three rounds, sharing co-medalist honors with UCLA's Eddy Lai.

    “Finally winning a big tournament did a ton for me, finally thinking, 'Yeah, I do belong and I'm good enough to play at this level and do well,'” Paysse said. “It was at the end of the (fall) season and I went into the offseason feeling pretty good.”

    “He's more consistent now and has a better grasp of what he does well. If he's struggling, he knows how to correct things,” Andrew Paysse said, assessing William's emergence. “Talent-wise, he's better than he was. His golf swing got better since (his redshirt year).”

    Paysse's mother, Becky, has been a constant traveling partner throughout William's golf career and was in Georgia to witness her youngest son's first college triumph. She'll also be Paysse's one guest permitted to watch his U.S. Amateur rounds in person at Bandon Dunes.

    “My mom has traveled with me to so many places all over the country, so that was so cool (for her to see the win in Georgia). She's been with me in Abilene and Brownwood and all those places, so it's really rewarding,” Paysse said, adding about his parents: “It's awesome. They've both always been extremely supportive of us. It's definitely not cheap, so it's a sacrifice they make.”

    With a sport management major and business minor, Paysse has earned spots on the SEC Academic Honor Roll two consecutive years. He's on track to obtain his bachelor's degree in the fall 2021 semester and plans to pursue a master's degree.

    In an interesting twist, the NCAA's COVID-19-based decision not to count the 2019-20 season against the eligibility of spring sports student-athletes means Paysse still will be considered a redshirt freshman in 2020-21, so he'll have four years of eligibility remaining. Incoming Belton senior Dallas Hankamer is committed to join A&M's golf program for the fall of 2021.

    As he prepared in the hot Texas sun to play his first U.S. Amateur, Paysse took stock of how far he and his game have come since those trials and doubts he experienced as that 18-year-old A&M freshman.

    “It's definitely not for everybody. That was the thing my freshman year. There's a lot of, 'Do I even want to do this?'” Paysse explained. “You really have to love it and be able to devote your time to it, or you're just going to get lapped. But it pays off, certainly.”