FOOTBALL 2020: After 13-1 season, Talbert banks on revamped offense to keep Holland's success going
MAN ON THE MOVE: Ayden Tomasek was a hard-blocking inside receiver for last year's 13-1 Holland Hornets. As a senior this season, the speedy left-hander is moving to quarterback to spearhead a new-look offense that will feature elements of the Wing-T, option, Flexbone and Veer. Tomasek also is projected to start at safety for coach Brad Talbert. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
HORNETS HUNGRY FOR MORE: Senior fullback/defensive end Ethan Mann (left) and 6-foot-4, 288-pound offensive tackle Marshall Mays are two of the top returning players this year from a Holland team that went a program-best 13-1 in 2019, advancing to the Class 2A Division I Region IV final. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
HOLLAND – Brad Talbert has fond memories of 2007, when he was an assistant coach at Temple High School and the Wildcats revived their old Wing-T offense, riding the legs of talented running backs Adrian Reaves-Brown, Lache Seastrunk and Quentin Tuck to a perfect district record.
“That was the best team right there, the best year we had,” Talbert said.
Why did that topic crop up during a post-practice discussion about the 2020 Holland Hornets early Monday evening inside Talbert's fieldhouse office? Because after the machine-like Hornets finished a program-best 13-1 in 2019, their veteran head coach decided that Holland would need to change its offensive philosophy to best fit its revamped personnel this season.
“It matches the personality of these guys. I've got to adapt to the guys we have,” said Talbert, whose program currently has 44 players.
Allow Talbert – who enters his ninth season as Holland's head coach with a 67-26 record and six playoff appearances – to describe the offense his Hornets will employ this year.
“It's the Rogers and Gunter offense. It's an option (attack) with some old-school Wing-T in it,” explained Talbert, whose team opens its season at home against Burton at 7:30 p.m. Friday. “It's a Flexbone. We're in the shotgun. We're going to run Veer and midline. It's a little Heinz 57, everything. We're all learning this offense together. We just rep it over and over and over.”
Last year, Holland's offense took full advantage of dual-threat quarterback Zane Spinn, punishing 2,000-yard rusher Clay Cooper, versatile weapon Brady Shelton, big-play receiver Caleb Cearley and overwhelming tackle Jae'Vone Brown, compiling an area-best 490 yards per game.
But shortly after the Hornets' dream season ended with a 49-12 loss to eventual state champion Refugio in the Class 2A Division I Region IV final, Talbert knew that change was coming to Holland's offense. He informed senior-to-be quarterback Ayden Tomasek that he'd be moving from inside receiver to quarterback and operating a multiple-look option scheme rather than the power-spread attack that Spinn and the Hornets executed so efficiently during the previous two seasons.
“I would say it was two weeks after that game against Refugio,” Tomasek, primarily an effective blocker last season, said of when Talbert broke the news to him. “I was super excited and ready to hit people and play smash-mouth football. I like it way better than the spread offense.”
Fast and strong at 5-feet-8 and 170 pounds, the left-handed Tomasek said he has a lot of things to take care of while leading Holland's new offense.
“(I have to) make sure everybody's doing the right thing, make sure my footwork and handoffs are good and that our read plays are perfect,” Tomasek said, adding that he and his offensive comrades are making far fewer mistakes than they did when practices began Aug. 3. “I have read plays where it's my decision. We're going to make the most of everything.”
Senior Ethan Mann and junior JC Chaney are rugged, seasoned performers who will rotate at fullback.
“Those two guys can bring it now,” said Talbert, who will deploy the senior tandem of Blaze Wooley and Caleb Evans at one backfield spot and the duo of senior Josh Evans and junior Josh Whisenhunt on the opposite side. Josh Evans and fellow senior Ashton Morris lead the receiving corps.
“This offense came out of nowhere for us,” the 5-10, 190-pound Mann said. “And for other schools it's going to be hard for them to play against us, because we're just going to pound it down their throat and tire them out.”
With the 6-4, 320-pound Brown now playing at New Mexico State, it's 6-4, 288-pound senior right tackle Marshall Mays who will be called on to spearhead Holland's offensive line as the guys up front – including fellow senior Ethan Rendon – adjust their blocking tactics for the new scheme.
“I have to be a very vocal leader now, and I also have to know most of the positions' plays,” said Mays, a key contributor last year who's receiving interest from college recruiters. “It can hard at first, but now that we're learning it, it can be real fun.”
“He's smart and takes care of that side of the line, kind of like having a coach out there,” Talbert said of Mays. “He's had a real good summer and worked on his agility. He wants to go to the next level.”
Holland's defense graduated many of the top players from a swarming unit that allowed an area-low 144 yards per game, but battle-tested stalwarts such as end Mann, linebacker Chaney and safety Josh Evans return for a group that hasn't changed its scheme. Tomasek also is moving positions on defense, shifting from outside linebacker to safety.
Despite Holland having achieved a program-best three straight seasons of 10-plus wins and going 33-6 during that span, Texas Football magazine picked the Hornets to finish third in the new District 12-2A Division I, behind Thorndale and Hearne. Last season Holland beat Thorndale 40-13 and Hearne 34-19. The seven-team district also includes Bruceville-Eddy, Moody, Rosebud-Lott and Thrall.
“It's more stuff I can put on the (bulletin) board,” Talbert said. “I don't care where we start. It's how you end. I just coach and my guys just play.”
Mann said the preseason predictions add fuel to the fire for Holland, ranked No. 21 in the state in 2A Division I by Texas Football.
“Most people are doubting us, but we just have to put in the time and effort,” Mann said. “We have to have the motivation and strength to be able to prove them wrong.”
Added Tomasek: “I feel like we're underdogs from what we were before, but I think we'll be good. We're going game-by-game, (trying to repeat as) district champions and then playoffs.”
Last season, Holland controlled defending state champion Mason 26-0 in a Region IV semifinal before being overmatched by perennial state powerhouse Refugio in San Antonio's Alamodome. With Holland having moved into Region III, it can't clash with second-ranked Refugio or No. 6 Mason until the state semifinals.
With the COVID-19 pandemic having affected so much during the last 5½ months, the 50-year-old Talbert – in his 27th year of coaching – simply looks forward to seeing his Hornets take their home field Friday night against Burton, ranked No. 12 in 2A Division II.
“I just want to line up correctly and play hard, and it's going to be a great night because there's football being played,” Talbert said. “I know the score's important, but I just want the guys to play. I'm going to be a kid, too."
STEADY LEADER: Holland coach Brad Talbert has a 67-26 record and six playoff berths in eight seasons with the Hornets, including their current streak of three consecutive years with 10-plus wins. Holland compiled a program-best 13-1 record last season, reaching the Class 2A Division I Region IV final before losing to eventual state champion Refugio. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)