LET'S GET IT STARTED: 'Phenomenal' opening practice excites Temple's Harrison-Pilot, Rumfield, York
ROOM TO ROAM: Temple junior wide receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot turns upfield near the left sideline after catching a pass from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield (red jersey) during the Wildcats' first practice Monday evening. Harrison-Pilot was a first-team All-District 12-6A receiver in 2020 for head coach Scott Stewart's 10-2 squad. Rumfield transferred from Midlothian Heritage to Temple in mid-May and threw two touchdown passes in the Blue-White spring game. Temple's season opener is Aug. 27 at Wildcat Stadium against two-time reigning Class 6A state champion Austin Westlake. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Granted, no defensive linemen or linebackers with bad intentions were getting right in Reese Rumfield's face or breathing down his neck as the emerging sophomore quarterback threw one well-timed pass after another during Temple's first preseason football practice early Monday evening.
Similarly, no quick, aggressive cornerbacks were jamming Mikal Harrison-Pilot at the line of scrimmage or covering him tightly as the Wildcats' junior wide receiver and four-star recruit smoothly ran deep routes and crossing patterns.
However, as first practices go, it was a positive and productive one for them and their teammates – despite the lack of physical resistance that's certain to arrive in the near future.
“It went phenomenal. It was a lot of great energy, positive energy,” said Harrison-Pilot, a two-year varsity starter who was a first-team All-District 12-6A receiver for last season's 10-2 Wildcats. “There were some little mistakes, but we picked it up and got way better. We got better today, I'd say.”
As music blasted from nearby speakers, Temple's players worked out in shorts, practice jerseys and helmets from 6 p.m. until just past 8 in hot, breezy weather on the grass practice fields adjacent to Wildcat Stadium, where the Wildcats will begin the regular season Aug. 27 by hosting perennial power Austin Westlake, winner of two consecutive Class 6A state championships.
Sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart said Temple welcomed 107 seniors, juniors and sophomores Monday along with 91 freshmen who practiced earlier Monday afternoon. He added that some players were not present on the first day but are expected to report soon.
Another Temple who's already a two-year starter entering his junior season is middle linebacker Taurean York, the reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP. The team's leading tackler each of the last two years, York said he and his teammates made sure to savor the beginning of their march toward what they think will be another successful season.
“We definitely set the tone, but we're really just enjoying the seniors' last first day of practice,” he said. “We were in the locker room today for like an hour and a half just talking about stories ever since I've been here, ever since they've been here. It was great to reminisce one last time before we get this thing going.”
DEFENSIVE PURSUIT: Linebackers including junior two-year starter Taurean York (5) participate in a drill during Temple's first day of preseason practice Monday evening. York was the District 12-6A Defensive MVP last season for head coach Scott Stewart's Wildcats and has led them in tackles two consecutive season. Temple's defense seeks to bounce back from a 56-28 loss to Rockwall-Heath in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game last December. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
What's been a relatively mild summer in Central Texas gave way to a very warm opening day of practice, with the heat index at 102 degrees as Temple's workout began. Stewart, an old defensive coordinator at heart, said the conditions proved taxing for some defensive players sporting black jerseys.
“We did a little tempo pursuit over here and the old black shirts' tongues were dragging a little bit,” Stewart said in fading daylight. “We're going to run our butts around the football. A couple of them are frustrated, but here's the deal: You can get glad in the same pants you got mad in. So we're going to run around.”
Rumfield was one of four quarterback prospects sharing the workload and threw primarily to the projected starting receivers. He was joined by fellow sophomores Luke Law – a 6-foot-5 transfer from Salado – and Damarion Willis and senior Kaleb Hill, who split his time between QB and defensive back. Even star senior running back Samari Howard, co-MVP of 12-6A last season, got action at quarterback in the practice's later stages.
Despite not moving to Temple until mid-May, Rumfield seems to have a solid grasp of the offense and demonstrated good arm strength and accuracy throughout the Wildcats' opening practice. Rumfield's skill and ongoing development could allow Stewart and offensive coordinator Josh Sadler to keep Harrison-Pilot at receiver, along with giving Temple the potential to produce an eventual three-year starter at quarterback.
That said, Rumfield – whose father, Belton graduate Brock Rumfield, was hired as a Temple assistant coach last spring – will have to show that he's the best QB of the bunch to earn the starting assignment for the eagerly anticipated opener against Westlake.
“I think our little quarterback crew did a good job,” Stewart said about Rumfield, Law, Willis and Hill. “A year from now it's probably a different story, but right now those guys just kind of keep their heads down and they grind and let the other guys lead who have been here. And that's OK.”
Much like last season, when then-senior Humberto Arizmendi edged Harrison-Pilot in training camp for the starting quarterback job (prompting the latter's successful shift to receiver), Stewart said he might not announce this season's starting QB until after the Aug. 19 scrimmage at College Station.
“That probably won't be until I guess the scrimmage week, and we'll probably go until the scrimmage (without a clear-cut starter) and see,” said Stewart, who's had a different starting QB in each of his first five seasons as Temple's head coach. “I like that. I like having a hot hand. If one of them takes over and is the starter for three years, then it is what it is.”
“They're competing to get the spot. It's great competition,” said the versatile Harrison-Pilot, who said he's “never giving up quarterback” and is always ready and willing to play QB if the team needs him there. He was a second-team all-district safety as a freshman and likely will play plenty of defense this season. “They're helping each other. They've got nothing against each other. They're picking each other up and getting each other better each day.”
Rumfield threw two touchdown passes in the Blue-White spring game in late May despite having been in Temple for less than two weeks. The Midlothian Heritage transfer spent the summer months learning the playbook and meeting up with Wildcats receivers – including Harrison-Pilot and seniors Tr'Darius Taylor, Devan Williams, Michael Heckstall and Nyles Moreland – to work on timing and getting to know each other.
“It's been awesome. We come up here almost every day and we'll just throw and rep everything, just rep after rep,” Rumfield said. “We just get comfortable with each other and get the timing right and everything. That helps us. We have a lot of tools in the passing game, but then you've got to stop the run with Samari. And we can use him out there (to catch passes).”
Stewart said Hill also is training as a defensive back in an effort to get on the field in case the senior doesn't earn the quarterback job.
Temple's coach said he witnessed leadership at the team's debut practice from players such as Howard, Harrison-Pilot, York, senior safety O'Tarian Peoples and senior linebacker Faylin Lee.
The Wildcats will practice again Tuesday evening and then add shoulder pads beginning Wednesday. They'll get into full pads for the first time Saturday, with a practice to follow the squad's photo day that morning on Wildcat Stadium's Bob McQueen Field.
After Temple went 7-0 to win the 12-6A championship and post a 9-1 regular season, the two-game playoff run was a roller-coaster for its defense. The Wildcats were dominant as they shut out visiting Waxahachie 38-0 in the 6A Division II bi-district duel, but one week later they allowed 661 yards and three touchdown passes of 45-plus yards in a 56-28 area-round loss to high-scoring Rockwall-Heath, coached by former Temple head coach Mike Spradlin.
Leading tackler York – a dependable veteran despite only recently turning 16 – said he continues to draw motivation from that struggle against Rockwall-Heath, yet it's the upcoming season's opener against Clemson-committed quarterback Cade Klubnik and Westlake that really gets his juices flowing.
“I wouldn't say I'm over the playoff game, but it's in the past and I can't change the result. So I'm just looking forward to Week 1,” said York, who added that the highlight of his summer was participating in Ohio State's football camp. “It's a chance to get my name out there and the team's name out there. We're playing such high-profile people. It's just an opportunity for us to be on the big stage and to get better by playing the best team in the state."