GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME: Improvement of new-look offensive line helps Temple drive into playoffs
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: Despite having only one returning starter, Temple's offensive line of junior right tackle Jeremiah Mungia (left), junior right guard Agustin Silva, senior center Jose Faz, sophomore left guard Endrei Sauls and senior left tackle Colby Rice has paved the way for the Wildcats to produce 440 yards and 55 points per game during their eight-game winning streak. District 12-6A champion Temple (8-2) hosts the Waxahachie Indians (6-4) in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Visually intimidating. Physically overwhelming. Absolutely dominant. Highly recruited. When it comes to the offensive line of Temple’s football team, none of those descriptions really fits.
However, the playoff-bound Wildcats can live with that, because the following adjectives certainly do apply to their so-called “undersized” linemen: hard-working, hungry, dedicated, determined, selfless, competitive, constantly improving and, perhaps at the top of head coach Scott Stewart’s list, scrappy.
Ever since Temple’s offense sputtered and struggled to develop consistency in back-to-back home losses to Austin Westlake and Magnolia West to begin the season, the Wildcats have transformed themselves into an explosive, high-scoring unit thanks largely to the emergence of their starting line: senior left tackle Colby Rice, sophomore left guard Endrei Sauls, senior center Jose Faz, junior right guard Agustin Silva and junior right tackle Jeremiah Mungia.
“We’ve grown a lot from those first two games. We started off rough, but we’ve had to come together as one unit and we’ve had a way better outcome,” said the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Rice, a three-year varsity contributor who’s the only returning starter on Temple’s line this season.
For first-year starters such as Mungia and Sauls, progress was a natural step after getting thrown into the proverbial fire early against top-notch competition.
“My confidence grew each week and just got better from Week 1 to now," said the 6-2, 235-pound Mungia, who admittedly has gotten tired of hearing the “undersized” tag attached to Temple’s line.
Added the 6-1, 303-pound Sauls, who won’t turn 16 until June: “I’d say going into the Westlake game, I’m not going to lie, I was kind of nervous. But now it’s just like normal.”
The numbers support the statements of Rice, Mungia and Sauls. The Wildcats were limited to a combined 27 points and 551 total yards in defeats against No. 1-ranked, two-time defending Class 6A state champion Westlake (10-0) and Magnolia West (9-1), and 147 of those yards came on two plays, one in the final minutes against a backup defense.
But resilient Temple responded with a 60-point explosion in winning its non-district finale against Hutto, and the Wildcats have averaged 440 yards total offense and 55 points – including scores by their defense and special teams – during an eight-game winning streak that propelled them to their second straight unbeaten District 12-6A championship.
“I’m very pleased, because we grew so much from where we started, especially in the run game,” said the 5-8, 250-pound Faz, another first-year starter. “We can get better, I know that.”
The line’s next opportunity to get better comes Friday night, when Temple (8-2) hosts 11-6A fourth-place finisher Waxahachie (6-4) in a 6A Division II bi-district game at 7:30 at Wildcat Stadium. The Wildcats defeated the Indians 38-0 in the same round at the same venue last December.
Stewart doesn’t sugarcoat his assessment of the offensive line’s performance early this season, but Temple’s sixth-year head coach also is quick to commend the group’s steady improvement for a surging team that secured the Wildcats’ consecutive playoff berth and third straight 12-6A championship.
“Our line wasn’t very good the first two weeks. With the nuances of that position, it’s a unit by definition and it takes a while for it to have any kind of jelling effect,” Stewart said Tuesday. “You’ve got to play through offensive line woes. With the lack of experience, there’s only one way to get that (experience).
“I think they’ve trended. Would I call us an absolutely dominant offensive line at this point? I’d probably hesitate on saying that, but we’ve rushed the ball well and it’s gotten better every week. That’s what you want to see. You don’t go from bad to good just because you line up. You’ve got to earn those things, and they’re continuing to trend in the right direction and I think they take it really personal.”
Rice, Sauls, Faz, Silva and Mungia – along with senior tight end and two-year starter KeAndre Smith (three touchdown receptions), whom they consider an extension of the line – have been effective, reliable blockers for the rushing and passing attacks under the tutelage of Temple second-year line coaches Mike Bickham and Justin Bell.
They’ve opened holes for prolific senior running back Samari Howard to rush for 1,369 yards and 16 touchdowns on his way to breaking two Temple career scoring records in the Wildcats’ 77-12 thrashing of Copperas Cove last Friday. They’ve also kept sophomore Reese Rumfield protected and upright for the most part as the first-year starting quarterback has thrown for 1,807 yards and 24 touchdowns, highlighted by 10 TDs to senior Devan Williams and six to junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot.
CLEAN POCKET: Temple junior right tackle Jeremiah Mungia (left) and junior right guard Agustin Silva block Belton defenders as sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield throws a deep pass during the Wildcats' 50-15 victory Oct. 15 at Tiger Field. The offensive line's blocking has helped Rumfield pass for 1,807 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first season with District 12-6A champion Temple. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
“They’ve made good strides. We opened the year and knew we had to replace four of the five. Colby was the only returning starter and there were a lot of question marks out there – a lot of young guys and inexperienced guys,” Temple offensive coordinator Josh Sadler said about the linemen. “Over the course of the year they’ve jelled together and formed one of those O-line bonds.
“It’s been a good 10-game stretch for them. There’s been a couple of dings here and there, but for the most part we’ve been able to keep them together and that shows whenever they get a chance to go play together. They communicate well and they know what each other are thinking and doing and moving together. That’s the secret for five guys playing up front. They’ve done a heck of a job of getting better every week.”
Eating pizzas on their lunch break Tuesday, Temple’s starting linemen were asked a variety of questions. They generally agreed that the 6-2, 275-pound Silva is the strongest player of the bunch. Silva isn’t loud or boisterous, but the right guard probably also leads the group in outward confidence. He was asked which opposing player has been the most challenging for him to block this season.
“Nobody’s really stood out to me. They all felt the same,” Silva said, causing his four linemates – who already had each identified a specific player who was a difficult matchup – to break out in laughter.
Temple’s current line entered this season with some major shoes to fill after the graduation of left tackle Alex Rodriguez, left guard Allen Camacho, center Matthew Frye and right guard Kai Lynn, who helped the offense compile 418.5 yards per game for the 10-2 Wildcats of 2020. Even Rice didn’t return this year at his same position, shifting from right tackle to left tackle.
Although those linemen enjoyed busting each other’s chops and formed a solid, experienced group, Rice believes his current line has its own areas of strength.
“Last year of course they were all characters and whatnot. But I feel like this new group that came in, I feel like we’re a stronger unit in a way,” Rice said. “I always say communication is key. Without communication, it’s all going to go wrong.”
Stewart was asked if any one lineman among the current starters has stood out the most this season. He took his time, thought about it and arrived at a simple answer: no.
“Not one stands out. I’ll tell you, to me this is the personification of synergy. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Stewart said. “And it’s not that they’re bad. They’re undersized.”
Temple does not list players’ heights or weights on its official roster, but Stewart – who stands a shade over 6-2 – took some playful jabs at what sizes his offensive linemen claim to be.
“I think Jeremiah said he stands 6-2, but I could eat corn off his head, so he’s a liar,” Stewart said, chuckling. “He’s probably 6-foot, but he isn’t a small kid. Endrei’s probably 5-11, 275, so he’s not a small kid. Colby’s 6-1, 205. Faz is probably closer to 5-6 or 5-7 and he’s probably 230, so he’s not real big. But he’ll go get in a dogfight. Agustin’s probably 6-1, 260 and he’s come a long way as a kid who didn’t have any varsity playing time (before this season) but got chunked in the mix. They’re not little guys. I’ve played with smaller.”
FORCES UP FRONT: Temple senior left tackle Colby Rice (53) and sophomore left guard Endrei Sauls (71) block as senior running back Samari Howard tries to break away from a defender during the Wildcats' 56-27 win at Killeen Ellison on Oct. 7. Howard rushed 28 times for 208 yards and two touchdowns in that game for Temple, which went 7-0 in District 12-6A for the second straight season. In last Friday's 77-12 home win over Copperas Cove, Howard became Temple's career leader in points (336) and touchdowns (53). (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Faz said his most challenging opponent this season was Brendan Bett, Killeen Ellison’s 6-5, 270-pound junior defensive tackle. However, Faz had something of a blueprint after watching 5-7, 230-pound center Frye battle the much larger Bett last season.
“I watched Frye play and always asked him, ‘How do you do it?’ They played Ellison last year and that same kid (Bett) was there and I was like, ‘Dang, how does he do it?’ But now I see. Just let loose and play with a high motor. Size doesn’t matter,” said Faz, who believes his small stature actually helps him. “I guess I already have an advantage just being short, because I’ve got leverage. (I’m) just playing more physical and fast.”
Against an imposing Ellison defense led by brawny linemen Bett and Devonte Tezino, Faz and his linemates definitely were up to the challenge. Their sharp blocking paved the way for Howard to rush 28 times for 208 yards and two touchdowns on a night when Rumfield threw four touchdown passes in Temple’s 56-27 road victory.
“The Ellison dude (Bett), he’s huge,” Faz said. “On some plays he got the best of me, but I still felt Samari running right behind me, so we won the play.”
Stewart said Faz’s battle with the bigger Bett was a prime example of a principle he and his coaching staff constantly drill into their players.
“You’re going to go against some people who are that big. If physics takes over at some point . . . we have a phrase on offense, defense and special teams: ‘Die for your country.’ Fight them as long as you can and try to buy us enough time,” Stewart said. “I’ve got a picture of Faz blocking No. 51 (Bett) from Ellison and he’s literally punching up like this, punching him in the gut. That means he’s playing low. Faz is blocking him in the belly button as hard as he can.
“If you took a still picture of how that play resulted, it ended up with Faz on his back. But it was a touchdown. What it’s not is it’s not a sack. That’s dying for your country. And then get up and do it again. It doesn’t seem to be hard for those guys, and that’s what I appreciate. I love coaching kids who don’t care what the guys on the other side look like.”
Sadler says Faz embodies the kind of determined, competitive football players Temple wants to have, similar to Frye last season.
“Jose doesn’t (get overwhelmed physically). He’s a typical Temple kid. The size doesn’t matter. It’s all about the heart and the fight, and he’s got plenty of it,” Sadler said. “It’s no different this week. The Waxahachie kid he’s going to line up across from (6-foot, 290-pound senior defensive tackle Demarcus Becks) is a large child. He’s quick-twitch and every bit as good as anybody we’ve faced in our district, if not better. Jose will stand up to the challenge on that.
“He’s just one of those kids. He’s even-keeled, he’s quiet and just goes and does his job. He’s a kid that four years from now you’re going to look up and he’s going to be a self-made man and making plenty of money for him and his family and doing a great job.”
Temple’s linemen agreed that the Ellison game is when, as Faz put it, “we just started taking over.” Beginning a drive at their 8-yard line late in the third quarter, the Wildcats compiled a 92-yard drive that lasted 6 minutes and was capped by Rumfield’s 17-yard TD strike to Williams.
"It got us going," Rice said.
As the lineman who came into this season with by far the most varsity experience, the easygoing Rice is the guy who gets his line going, even though at a self-reported 215 pounds he’s very light by 6A standards.
“I look up to him. He’s very physical on the field and he likes getting things done. He just finds a way,” Silva said about Rice.
As the line’s heaviest but youngest starter, left guard Sauls said Rice’s helpful hints have aided him throughout the season.
“Every day in practice he’ll correct me real quick, because he knows way more than I do,” Sauls said. “He’s like, ‘Hey, no, it’s this way.’”
Sadler praised the way Rice has emerged as a leader during his senior season.
“Colby does a good job of keeping those guys in check,” said Sadler, whose offense produced 528 yards on only 41 plays in last Friday’s district finale against Copperas Cove. “He’s naturally a loosey-goosey, fun type of guy, so I really didn’t really know coming into his senior year if he would be that guy. But he’s learned how to take that personality and meld it with good leadership qualities and take those five guys and really turn them into a strong unit. He’s done a great job.”
At left guard, Sauls plays a position that used to help protect his father. As a senior, Eron Sauls split time at quarterback for head coach Tam Hollingshead’s 2003 Temple team that went 8-4 and until 2020 had been the most recent Wildcats squad to win a playoff game in the state’s highest classification.
Eron Sauls now is coaching inside receivers at 6A football powerhouse Allen, the state’s largest high school. Endrei Sauls said his dad, despite being a few hours away, is sure to keep tabs on how his son and Temple are playing.
“He’s come to a few of the games when he can and he watches the film, so he stays updated with all the stuff,” said Endrei, who competes in shot put and discus during track and field season and also participates in the percussion section of Temple’s band.
“When I got the call up to varsity, I told them I’d still be in (the band); I just can’t march (at halftime),” he said. “I go every day and sometimes on Saturday when they have a competition I’ll go with them.”
Playing guard might be a one-season scenario for Sauls. Stewart said Sauls might shift over one spot to center next season, because Temple has some tall, encouraging prospects at tackle who helped the Wildcats’ top freshman team share the 12-6A championship. Junior Koran Lumpkins provides depth on the right side of the line and will be a candidate to become a starter next season.
“I think Endrei is a good enough athlete to snap the ball. We’ll have to see what we have coming up behind him. We’ve got some bigger kids who will be sophomores. A couple of them are 6-6 and 6-4, and it’s been a while since we had any of those,” Stewart said. “They’re big kids and pretty good athletes, so that probably lends itself to being tackles. I could see Jeremiah possibly squeezing down to a guard. Those are all potentials, not stuff we’ll mess with right now. There’s definitely some room for movement there.”
Sadler has been impressed not only by Sauls’ improved play but also by the burly sophomore’s approach to the game.
“We all know Endrei has ability and a chance for a good future. He’s definitely got the frame for it,” Sadler said. “He’s going to have to put the work in and get better every single year. He’s very low-key and quiet. He just goes to work. He’s going to have to get in the weight room and the film room and really grind.”
“Endrei will play anywhere we ask him to. If it fits our line for him to play center next year, he will. If he bumps out to tackle, he will. He’ll play anywhere we need him to play. He’s a very unselfish human being and just wants to have fun and win football games.”
While Faz studies automotive technology and envisions a future in that field, Mungia and Silva said participating in Temple’s welding program is something they find rewarding.
“I just enjoy doing it. It’s a nice skill to have for later in life,” said Mungia, who as a freshman kicked a field goal at halftime to win a year's worth of chicken from Raising Cane's.
As players who split their time between varsity and junior varsity last year, new starters Mungia and Silva have been as productive as Sadler could have hoped.
“Across the board, I’m just very pleased. Jeremiah Mungia has come and done a great job. We had high hopes for him and he’s stepped up and filled those shoes really well, and I’ve watched Agustin Silva step up and do well there,” Sadler said. “That’s the neat thing about our kids – they have a ‘next up’ mentality. Going into the offseason last year after we lost those four kids, they knew they were going to have to be the guys, and you see those kids work a little bit different and prepare a little bit different.
“Their body types and structures show that. Mungia’s gained a lot of weight since last season, and Silva’s gotten a lot stronger. He’s very strong. If you watched those guys work in the offseason, they knew it was their time.”
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES: Temple offensive linemen Seth Martinez (front left), Colby Rice, Jose Faz, Endrei Sauls, Jeremiah Mungia (back left), Dexter Hewitt, Agustin Silva and Luke Thompson join offensive line coach Mike Bickham (gray top) as they display the District 12-6A championship trophy after the Wildcats wrapped up a 7-0 league record with a 77-12 home victory against Copperas Cove last Friday at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
A major motivational force for Temple’s offensive linemen is the coaching of Bickham and Bell, which blends a serious-minded approach to getting the most out of their collective ability with having a good time playing the game.
“They are a scrappy group and they take a lot of pride in being able to run the ball. They understand with our identity that we want to do that. Bickham’s a tough guy with an old-school mentality,” Stewart said of the Bartlett graduate who’s been coaching for 30 years. “I’ve always said, the kids play like the coach thinks and they play like the coach acts. I think that’s the biggest compliment you can give to a coach, is to play like he talks. They try to do that.
"Coach Bickham and Coach Bell, their opinion and their coaching is very important to those kids, and I think that’s how you become scrappy. If they don’t care what their coach thinks, you can’t be scrappy and you can’t be tough guys. They play hard. I’ve never been on a really good team that didn’t have a scrappy offensive line. I can’t say that we were really good on the offensive line in 2016, but we played 16 games. Two of those kids were under 200 pounds, but they were scrappy.”
Silva said Temple’s line coaches strike the right balance between work and play.
“Coach Bickham always keeps it real. He’ll let you have it,” Silva said. “(But) they always keep making me laugh.”
Said Mungia about the coaching of Bickham and Bell: “It’s good. I enjoy it a lot, because they both just bring the best out of you. They’ll tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. They’ll make you better each and every day.”
Added Rice: “Coach Bickham says don’t change up what you’re doing just because it’s the scout team. Go hard in practice and give 100 percent because that’s going to make us better.”
Rice said that Temple’s line coaches provide a steady influence in a sport that often becomes heated.
“That’s what I like about Coach Bickham and Coach Bell,” he said. “Even when I get a hot head sometimes and I can’t contain it, they keep a level head on my shoulders so I don’t end up saying anything that makes anybody else mad.”
Temple’s offensive line experienced some moments of pride last Friday night at Wildcat Stadium, where three-year standout Howard became the Wildcats’ all-time leader in points and touchdowns, surpassing two program records that Lache Seastrunk established from 2007-09. The Air Force-committed Howard rushed for four first-half touchdowns, reaching 336 points and 53 TDs in his stellar career.
“Even though all the numbers go to Samari, I’ve been blocking for him for years, so when heard that, it made me feel good. It almost made me want to tear up a little bit,” Rice said. “I’ve been blocking for him for so long, so when he broke those records and I was able to be on the field blocking for him, it made me feel good. I’m happy for him. He’s going to go do great things.”
Added Faz: “It just brings joy to me. It’s something I’ll remember forever, like, ‘I blocked for that kid.’”
What makes Howard’s achievements even more satisfying for the Wildcats’ linemen is they know the durable Howard appreciates their efforts and embraces the game’s physical nature.
"Samari puts his body on the line for us. He tells me he loves blocking," Mungia said.
Sadler believes it’s important for Temple’s offensive linemen to receive kudos and positive feedback for a job well done, because such recognition often can be scarce.
“I tell them all the time, ‘The most scrutinized position in Temple football is going to be the five guys up front. You’re not going to get your name in the paper. You’re always going to be told that you suck.’ Any time something breaks down on offense, it’s always going to boil down to, ‘Well, the line didn’t block,’” Sadler said. “They’re never going to get the pub and the press that they deserve whenever we do have success, but they always get the blame whenever we don’t have success.
“So it’s really a tough position to play, and it’s real tough here. Those guys not only have to be the grinders; they’ve also got to be mentally tough enough to take the criticism and everything that comes with that position. You don’t get those ‘attaboys’ all the time, because you’re not the one scoring the touchdowns.”
As the most experienced player on Temple’s line, Rice – who started at right tackle in the Wildcats’ bi-district playoff game at defending state champion Longview in 2019 – said it was a good sign that he couldn’t choose which of his fellow linemen has improved the most throughout the season.
“Man, if I have to be honest, I can’t really pick one, because I’ve seen every one of these guys get better and better each week. They all stand out to me a lot,” said Rice, who wants to play college football and knows he'll probably have to move to tight end to do so.
This Temple team certainly has plenty of talent, including some players who have generated significant interest from recruiters. From an offensive line perspective, however, the Wildcats are far more blue-collar than blue-chip. But with a cohesive bond, a tough-minded attitude and a hunger to keep improving, that suits their offensive coordinator just fine.
“That’s really what you want to see out of your offensive linemen. You want to see guys who are grinders. You don’t want flash-in-the-pan type of guys,” Sadler said. “You need guys who are nose-to-the-grindstone, hard-working kids that you know are going to be there every single day and will do exactly what they’re asked to do to the best of their ability.
“We haven’t always had the biggest guys or the ‘D-I offer guys’ or ‘five-star guys’ or whatever comes with that mess, but I’m glad we have those hard-working, blue-collar kids. They care about their teammates, they love their teammates and all they want to do is see Temple be successful. When you’ve got five guys who have that mantra and that’s what they want to do, you can do some special things."
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