ON THE PROWL AGAIN: Baylor-committed senior linebacker Taurean York (5), the two-time District 12-6A Defensive MVP, and the Temple Wildcats begin fall practice early Monday morning as they start to prepare for their Aug. 27 season opener at McKinney. The Wildcats of seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart have gone 7-0 in district play in each of the last two seasons. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
The Temple Wildcats certainly didn’t plan to begin their 2022 football season by playing on a Saturday afternoon, likely in the most intense heat of the day.
But because of a scheduling miscommunication with McKinney ISD, Temple will play its opener against McKinney at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27 at McKinney ISD Stadium as part of a three-day showcase there.
It’s not an ideal situation for Wildcats seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart, who said Temple had signed up for a Friday night game but later was informed by McKinney about the unexpected change. With other games slotted for Thursday and Friday nights and McKinney not wanting to wait until Saturday night to play, the Wildcats – who declined to play at 11 a.m. Saturday because of travel-related concerns – essentially were stuck with the Saturday afternoon game.
“The whole time it was supposed to be on Friday night. That’s where I got fussy,” Stewart, whose program also will begin the 2023 season in McKinney, said Thursday afternoon. "(McKinney) didn’t even call me (when it decided to change the schedule). I wouldn’t have done it (originally) if it was Saturday.”
Regardless of the less-than-ideal kickoff time for Temple’s season opener, the Wildcats are planning to play it smart when it comes to practices as they pursue their 10th consecutive playoff appearance. Stewart said he hoped to have 240 to 250 players report.
Their first official gathering is Monday, with a team meeting at 6:30 a.m. followed by practice on their grass fields from 7:05 until approximately 9:20 – well before the temperature threatens to reach 100 degrees yet again in what’s been a blisteringly hot summer.
“We’re going to go in the morning and see what that looks like, just because of the heat index,” Stewart said before joking, “I guess when I played (in the 1990s) it said 105 but it was really like 88, but whatever. There’s so many protocols for heat index now and it’s hard to get a practice in when you’ve got to stop every 40 minutes and take a 20-minute (air conditioning) break. How do you get anything done?
“So we’re going to try to go in the morning just so we can get into it. What we do the second week is going to be predicated on how that goes. Sometimes we have some trouble getting some kids out of bed. I want a contingency plan. I told the kids all week, ‘If you want to be here, if this is important to you, you’ll find a way.’ I don’t think there will be any problems.”
Coming off its second consecutive 9-3 season and undefeated District 12-6A championship, Temple has an impressive core of battle-tested performers, paced by three seniors: Baylor-committed middle linebacker Taurean York, the two-time reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP; highly recruited wide receiver/quarterback/safety Mikal Harrison-Pilot; and safety Naeten Mitchell, a New Mexico State commitment. York and Harrison-Pilot will be four-season varsity starters.
The Wildcats will practice in helmets, T-shirts and shorts Monday and Tuesday, then add shoulder pads to the outfit Wednesday through Friday. Saturday will bring their first workout in full pads and with full contact.
Temple’s second week of practice will conclude on Friday, Aug. 19 in Manor with a three-way scrimmage – the Wildcats’ lone scrimmage other than intrasquad action – at 6:30 p.m. against former 12-6A rival Killeen and Manor.
After the Saturday afternoon season opener at McKinney, the Wildcats will begin their five-game home schedule at Wildcat Stadium against Willis at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2 on Bob McQueen Field.
Following a challenging four-game non-district slate that includes a Sept. 9 game at nemesis College Station and a Sept. 16 home duel against Arlington Martin, Temple will begin defense of its 12-6A crown Sept. 23 at Bryan. The Wildcats’ district home opener is Sept. 30 against Pflugerville Weiss, a first-time opponent. Temple will play nine straight weeks before getting its open date.
ROLLING WITH THE CHANGES: Temple seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart promoted Robby Case to offensive coordinator and hired Brad Stanfield as quarterbacks coach after Wildcats OC Josh Sadler departed in June to become the head coach at Killeen. Temple begins practice Monday morning and scrimmages Killeen and Manor on Aug. 19 at Manor. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
The scrimmage in Manor will be an opportunity for Temple to see a very familiar face. Josh Sadler was a prominent figure on Stewart’s coaching staff and coordinated the Wildcats’ productive offense for several seasons before Killeen announced Sadler as the Kangaroos’ new head coach on June 9 after Neal Searcy left to take over in Gainesville.
Although Sadler’s departure came late in the game in terms of the usual coaching cycle, Stewart was glad to see his friend and right-hand man earn his first head coaching job.
“The timing of it’s not perfect, but I try to be a human being. Those opportunities don’t just (come along often). Obviously it’s tough to pass up that opportunity,” Stewart said about Sadler, whose balanced offense – led by record-setting running back Samari Howard (Army West Point) – cranked out 387 yards per game in 2021. “What Sadler does understand is hard work and culture and stuff like that, so they’ll be good and they’ll be good fast. They picked a hell of a coach and he’ll do a good job.”
Stewart said Sadler did not hire any members of Temple’s high school coaching staff to join him at Killeen.
“I respect him for that. He’s a dear friend of mine and I think he was trying to do right,” Stewart said. “He took a couple of (Temple) middle school coaches over there who understand culture and hard work.”
Stewart had to overhaul the majority of his offensive staff during the offseason, with six newcomers joining holdovers Robby Case and Mike Bickham. Stewart promoted Case from special teams coordinator and outside receivers coach to offensive coordinator, while Bickham continues to serve as offensive line coach.
“Coach Case is a why-and-how guy. He’s very similar to Sadler when it comes to that. That has something to do with the program,” Stewart said. “He’s been places and he’s been around some really good football. He’s done a heck of a job here and he’s a heck of a ball coach.”
With Sadler and offensive assistant Andrew Cameron moving away to accept other coaching opportunities, Stewart knew he needed to bring in someone who’s especially skilled at coaching quarterbacks. In fact, Case encouraged that when he and Stewart met to discuss the future of Temple’s offense.
“As soon as Josh and Cam left, I sat down with Robby and said, ‘What’s your philosophy?’ We didn’t go through a formal interview process, because I felt like I knew, but I also wanted to get on the same page,” Stewart said. “I said, ‘Who would be your first hire?’ And he said, ‘We’ve got to find a strong quarterback guy. I can coach it and teach them what to do, but the why and the how, I’m not an expert there. The nuances of that position right there . . . that’s going to be a huge hire. (Case’s) background is in offensive line and tight ends, and that’s real good.”
Enter Brad Stanfield, a well-regarded longtime quarterbacks coach who has personally trained several NFL and major college QBs. He was part of Alabama’s staff and most recently was an assistant at Richmond Foster, which Temple defeated in a third-round playoff game in 2015 and a state semifinal in 2016.
Stewart and Stanfield met and became friends at a coaching convention a decade ago and finally found the right timing and opportunity to coach together.
“He personally trains some of the best QBs on the planet, so I’m really looking forward to it,” Stewart said about Stanfield, who started at Temple on July 11. “He comes in with that (strategy of), ‘Read the defense and take what they give you.’ It’s just a very attacking philosophy. His philosophy is no dead plays. There’s an opportunity on every single play to make something happen. And be smart with the football and all that stuff.
"He does a lot more of the mental training of pre-snap and post-snap. They’re talking philosophies that we just haven’t done here, because you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m not taking anything away from the people who left, but this might be the most talented offensive staff I’ve ever been around.”
The newcomers to Temple’s offensive staff include James Norman with the offensive line, receivers coaches Sidney Parker and Jimario Grounds and running backs coach Bryant King. Also, Brock Rumfield – who has succeeded Dallas Robertson as head baseball coach – will assist with the offensive line after helping coach defensive linemen last season.
Headlining the group of Temple quarterbacks that Stanfield will instruct is junior Reese Rumfield, who’s projected to be the first Wildcats QB to start consecutive season openers since Zach Allen in 2011 and 2012. After not moving to Temple until the middle of spring practice in 2021, Rumfield started all 12 games and passed for 1,831 yards and 24 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Stewart said Rumfield has added 20 pounds, up to roughly 180, since he arrived in Temple.
Luke Law was expected to compete for playing time at quarterback this season after helping lead Temple’s top junior varsity team to a district title last year. However, the tall, strong-armed Law transferred back to Salado for his junior season after Tom Westerberg was hired as head coach of his alma mater, whose Eagles are expected to transition to a passing-based offense after having employed a rushing-heavy attack under Alan Haire, now the head coach at first-year Killeen Chaparral.
The versatile Harrison-Pilot has proved himself as a viable and dangerous quarterback option when needed in that role, and junior Damarion Willis also has QB experience along his ability as a defensive back and slot receiver.
“You’re going to see Mikal Harrison-Pilot line up all over the football field,” Stewart said, clearly excited about the potential of the four-star recruit and son of Temple assistant defensive coordinator Chris Pilot. “We were talking about special formations yesterday, and it’s like, ‘We’re going to put him here, here, here and here and see if we can find those matchups. When Mikal lines up at tight end, don’t be surprised.”
Stewart said he’s inclined to have sophomore Kade Stewart, his son, play quarterback for Temple’s JV Blue squad this season so that the left-handed thrower can absorb as many game repetitions as possible instead of watching from the sideline on varsity.
“Kade’s going to play. If we walked out tomorrow, he’d play JV Blue because I want him to play,” Scott Stewart said. “I hate bringing sophomores up to sit the bench, whatever his last name is, and he understands that. We’ve had a lot of talks. Every time he throws a ball and reads a coverage he’s going to get a little bit better. I’ve seen it time and time and time again, when you bring up a sophomore for depth, the guys who play on JV pass him up the next year. Sophomores either move up and play or they stay down.”
The Wildcats don’t expect one player to replace Howard, the durable, productive three-year workhorse. Last year’s 12-6A Offensive MVP rushed for 3,955 yards and broke Temple career records with 57 touchdowns and 360 points. The appealing trio of senior Deshaun Brundage, junior Jervonnie Williams and sophomore Adrian Scott will share the backfield workload.
“When you’re replacing your all-time leader in scoring and touchdowns and all the records he had,” Stewart said, “it’s hard to replace someone like that.”
Stewart praised the work ethic of assistant coach Michael Jones, who was promoted to special teams coordinator after helping Case with that aspect in recent seasons. Jones also coaches cornerbacks. Temple’s head coach said special teams continues to be major point of emphasis – a belief that only strengthened when Martin outplayed the host Wildcats in the kicking game during a 43-25 Warriors victory in 2020.
“I’m an ex-special teams coordinator. That’s a big part of the game for me and I’m still heavily involved,” Stewart said. “That (Martin game) did a lot, when you can show film and say, ‘Look, guys, this kid (excelling on special teams) is committed to the University of Texas.’ I respect the heck out of Coach (Bob) Wager.
“He told me after the game, ‘Coach, I almost had to fight him one time to take him off (the field on special teams) because we were up (by a large margin) on somebody.’ That didn’t ‘change the culture,’ but I mean, Samari Howard refused to come off the field (on special teams) after that. We’re playing Copperas Cove here last year and I’m like, ‘Hey, it’s 77-12. I’m taking you off kickoff.’ (He said), ‘No, you’re not!’” And I saw some guys flip the switch. Taurean’s been like that since birth. But some guys weren’t like that.”
Temple has entered the last several seasons with major question marks along its offensive line, but that does not seem to be the case as fall camp begins. Seniors Jeremiah Mungia and Agustin Silva and junior Endrei Sauls pace the group as returning starters and several other players gained valuable experience.
“I’d never go home and say, ‘Man, we’re good.’ But we’ve got six kids who either started or played a ton last year, which in theory can’t do anything but improve,” Stewart said. “There was three or four years in a row where we were replacing four starters minimum a year. We’re more experienced on the O-line than any time since I’ve been here. And you’ve got Case over there, so our O-line will be as coached up as we know how to make them.”
The defensive staff for veteran coordinator Dexter Knox mostly remained intact with Pilot, line coach Robert Havens and outside linebackers coach Justin Pierce and also added Scott Clark and Jeremy Mitchell, Naeten Mitchell’s father. Another staff addition is Augie Guzman, who will coach at the freshman level.
“I think that’s a pretty good dadgum staff,” said Stewart, whose defensive stalwarts along with York include senior lineman Jaylon Jackson and senior safety Zion Moore along with junior lineman Ayden Brown.
Temple has approximately 12 sophomores contending for varsity playing time and perhaps six might earn starting positions. That group includes defensive backs O’Ryan Peoples and Deavonte Carr and wide receiver Christian Tutson.
Temple has a pair of skilled seniors who are move-in players. Defensive back/receiver Steve Jackson came from Troy and wide receiver Pharrell Hemphill arrived from Cameron Yoe.
Stewart said one fresh element in Temple’s training camp will be having the freshmen practice along with the older groups in the hope that seasoned players such as Harrison-Pilot and three-time leading tackler York – who also figures to get action at running back – will pass their knowledge onto the future standouts.
“What we’re going to do with our freshmen is we’re going to try to let the old guys teach the new guys the ropes, if you will,” Stewart said. “Those guys are coming in from three different middle schools, and I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that they’re going to be together for one year. We’re going to teach them the game of football all together. It’s going to be an experiment, because we’ve never done that before.”