INTRIGUING OPENER: Temple set to begin season with road battle vs. top QB Luster, talented McKinney
CHARGING INTO A NEW SEASON: Temple senior wide receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot –shown scoring a touchdown during a first-round playoff win against Waxahachie last November at Wildcat Stadium – and the Wildcats begin their 2022 season against the McKinney Lions at noon Saturday at McKinney ISD Stadium. Head coach Scott Stewart's Temple squad plays its home opener against Willis at 7:30 p.m. next Friday. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
McKINNEY – Keldric Luster produced an exceptional junior season at quarterback for Frisco Liberty in 2021. He passed for 3,435 yards and 30 touchdowns against four interceptions and rushed for 1,579 yards and 23 TDs, winning District 7-5A Division II’s Most Valuable Player award as the Redhawks finished 10-2.
All right, so that’s impressive, but how is it relevant to the Temple Wildcats’ season opener against McKinney at noon Saturday at McKinney ISD Stadium?
Well, because Luster no longer plays for Liberty. The Southern Methodist verbal commitment now is McKinney’s top-gun quarterback, having transferred into the Lions’ program during the offseason.
In the final game of the season-opening, three-day THSCA Kickoff Classic at McKinney ISD Stadium, Temple’s defense figures to have its hands full trying to contain the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Luster, a battle-tested performer who’s new to McKinney but entering his third season as a varsity starting QB.
He’s certainly skilled and dangerous enough to have caught the attention of Temple seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart leading in to the opener.
“I watched a little bit of (Luster’s film from last year), I got to watch him at the 7-on-7 state tournament and we got the scrimmage film from last week vs. (Lucas) Lovejoy,” Stewart said. “He’s a big kid. He is very dismissive against pressure. There’s some people who when they feel pressure, they focus on the pressure. He just eludes it. Very good spatial awareness.”
McKinney fifth-year head coach Marcus Shavers, who guided the Lions to playoff berths in his first two seasons, likes the elements Luster has brought into the program.
“(Luster is) a coach’s dream. He stays very even-keeled out there and does everything you ask him to do,” Shavers told the McKinney Courier-Gazette in late May. “He’s quiet and doesn’t talk much but you can already see how influential he has been with his teammates.”
Temple’s defense also must contend with McKinney junior running back Bryan Jackson, a 6-1, 210-pound player who rushed for 973 yards and 13 touchdowns last year after getting varsity playing time as a freshman. The four-star recruit is weighing scholarship offers from Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Southern California.
Shavers also has plenty of talent on the defensive side. Senior safety Christian Ford (6-1, 185) is committed to Arkansas, and junior safety/cornerback Xavier Filsaime (6-1, 185) is a four-star recruit who’s received offers from programs such as Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Louisiana State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Florida State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Despite the fact that McKinney – 4-6 last season while competing in a 6A district with juggernauts Allen and Denton Guyer – hasn’t advanced to the playoffs in the last two seasons, Stewart believes the Lions’ combination of size, speed and skill will be a great challenge for Temple to begin the season.
“I don’t know who McKinney is playing and I don’t know what their district is, but they look like a playoff team to me. They’re a very physical football team,” Stewart said. “Their quarterback and their running back are out of this world, their offensive line is huge and their receivers can roll. They’ve got a big defensive line. Their linebackers, if they’re not at the line of scrimmage when the ball’s snapped, they’re getting there really quickly.
“They’ve got an all-world safety with about 18 offers, and he is a dude. He tries to completely annihilate the slot receiver. When he’s the one who’s coming down, you better have your head on a swivel. He almost cut a guy from Lovejoy in half. That intrigues me, because I love to watch kids play like that. You better know where that kid is.”
Temple-McKinney is a matchup of teams that captured state championships in 1979. Coach Bob McQueen’s Wildcats went 15-0 in 4A, then the state’s largest classification. Coach Ron Poe’s Lions went 11-4 in winning the 3A title. McQueen led Temple from 1972-99 and Poe guided McKinney from 1971-2000.
Temple aims to improve to 5-2 in season openers with Stewart at the helm. A year ago the host Wildcats lost 54-13 to top-ranked and eventual back-to-back-to-back 6A state champion Austin Westlake, but Temple won nine of its next 10 games, including its second straight 7-0 march to the District 12-6A championship. The Wildcats’ 9-3 season ended with a 45-33 loss to Rockwall-Heath in the area round of the 6A Division II playoffs.
Stewart said Temple’s team captains for Saturday’s game will be senior wide receiver/safety Mikal Harrison-Pilot, senior cornerback/receiver Naeten Mitchell, senior linebacker/running back and two-time 12-6A Defensive MVP Taurean York and junior quarterback Reese Rumfield, a returning starter. Four-star recruit Harrison-Pilot and the Baylor-committed York enter their fourth season as varsity starters and will shoot for a fourth 12-6A title.
Mitchell, a New Mexico State commitment who was a first-team all-district safety last season, figures to defend stellar McKinney receivers such as Filsaime and senior Dylan Rhodes (6-2, 185) as Luster looks to target them often.
“They’re a solid team. They have players everywhere. They’re very athletic and fast,” Mitchell said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m going to be playing corner a lot, so I’m excited about being able to guard them. I’m just excited to have a good competition, because they’re a good team and we’re a good team, so we’re going to go at it and it’s going to be a great game.”
Temple begins its five-game home schedule against Willis at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium. The Wildcats will play at College Station on Sept. 9 and host Arlington Martin on Sept. 16 before they open defense of their 12-6A championship Sept. 23 at Bryan. Temple’s first home district game is Sept. 30 against first-time opponent Pflugerville Weiss.
After playing 20 playoff games and advancing to two state championship games in 5A Division I from 2014-17, the Wildcats haven’t advanced past the second round in four seasons as a 6A program.
Mitchell believes this Temple squad has what will be required to break through.
“Temple’s always been about being strong and being a team and working hard,” he said. “We’re a very solid team and I feel like if we stick together and connect well, I think we can go pretty deep.”
Junior nose tackle Ayden Brown was held out of Temple’s scrimmage at Killeen last Friday, but Stewart said Tuesday that he expected the reigning 12-6A Defensive Newcomer of the Year to be cleared to play against McKinney.
Senior weakside linebacker Zion Moore, a first-team all-district safety/outside linebacker in 2021, is expected to miss six to eight weeks after surgery for his broken ankle. Senior Jaylon Jackson, a first-team all-league pick at defensive end last year, has moved to Moore’s position.
“If one person goes down, it doesn’t mean the backup just pops in. Sometimes you’ve got to find your best 11 and move people around,” said Stewart, whose Dexter Knox-coordinated defense has several new starters the secondary, including senior cornerback and Troy transfer Steve Jackson, junior safety Damarion Willis and sophomore safety O’Ryan Peoples.
Stewart in early August expressed his displeasure with opening the season on a Saturday, stating that the agreement he made with McKinney ISD organizers was to play on Friday night. Because of a scheduling miscommunication with the other games at McKinney ISD Stadium, McKinney and Temple were forced into the Saturday game.
McKinney North beat Garland 38-10 on Thursday night, and Longview – ranked No. 1 in 5A Division I – plays at McKinney Boyd on Friday night. Temple is tentatively scheduled to open its 2023 season at McKinney Boyd.
“Coach Shavers feels the same way that I do,” said Stewart, who wants to get Temple into its standard routine for a Friday game as soon as possible. “He feels even worse because every time they do this (season-opening classic), he’s had every Saturday game, so he feels like he’s the one getting left out.”
On the flip side, Stewart is excited about his team getting an opportunity to play at McKinney ISD Stadium, a $69.9 million venue that opened in 2018.
“I like being able to go to new stadiums. Maybe that’s my small-ball background coming out, but I never got to play in these kinds of stadiums when I was a kid. I never saw AstroTurf until I got to college,” said Stewart, who played for Troy. “I just think it’s cool, these experiences with our kids getting to travel. I like that part of it for the team and for the kids.”
Stewart said Temple goes into the opener focused primarily on executing its concepts and plays but also ready to adjust to any wrinkles McKinney throws at the Wildcats.
“They’ve got a new offense and a new offensive coordinator, so you go based off what you see on the scrimmage tape. But I don’t think they ran 40 plays, so there’s no way to completely (know what to expect),” Stewart said. “So you work on your base stuff and just who you are and what you are. My philosophy is you go in there with a minimal gameplan and leaving room for adjustments. How do our kids handle adjustments? Because no matter what happens for the next four weeks and whatever that looks like – you go wax people or you go take butt-whippings or anywhere in between – you’re getting ready for Week 5 (at Bryan). There’ll be people who’ll care, but it doesn’t matter.
“We’re not focused on, ‘We’ve got to have all this in.’ McKinney runs a 3-4 (defense), but if they’re like anybody else, they could say one word and show up in a 4-2-5 and now what are you going to do? So we’ve worked some of the schemes and we’re going to try to be ready for what we’ve seen, but there’s a lot of room for stuff we haven’t seen. They’re going to try to find out who they are in the game and we’re going to try to find out who we are in the game, and it’s going to be who can make adjustments and get the adjustments coordinated and executed that gives you the best chance.”
Having coached Temple to a 57-19 record and six playoff berths in six years as head coach, Stewart – the Wildcats’ defense coordinator from 2014-15 – reflected on what he’s learned and how his outlook has changed entering season No. 7.
“I think it’s getting better at trying to develop kids and not just prove how much I know or making sure the schemes are there. That’s all I cared about (before becoming head coach), and I kept that role for a couple years as far as staying in there and grinding on that,” Stewart said. “It’s being more of a human and, ‘What do you need to be successful?’ and not, ‘Get your head out of your butt!’ and ‘Do it this way.’
“And that’s with the kids and the coaches. I feel like I’ve . . . ‘lightened up’ isn’t the right words, because the expectations don’t change here, but I just think I want to be better at the communication piece and the growing piece instead of wearing people out. Not everybody responds to that."
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