NEVER SATISFIED: After Temple's 10-2 season, stinging playoff defeat continues to motivate Wildcats
DETERMINED TO DEFEND: Temple linebacker Taurean York (left) and defensive ends Eric Shorter (13) and Tommy Torres celebrate after Shorter caused and recovered a Killeen fumble in a 49-6 Wildcats win last November. York was voted District 12-6A's Defensive MVP last season, while Shorter was a first-team all-league pick and Torres earned second-team honors. All three players return this season for Temple, which seeks to bounce back after Rockwall-Heath compiled 661 yards in beating the Wildcats 56-28 in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game. Coach Scott Stewart's Temple squad begins its season at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium against top-ranked Austin Westlake. Coach Todd Dodge's Chaparrals have won two consecutive 6A state championships. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
On a recent Saturday morning at Wildcat Stadium, Temple offensive coordinator Josh Sadler and defensive coordinator Dexter Knox discussed their pie-in-the-sky goals for the 2021 high school football season.
Asked first about the variety of talented weapons the Wildcats’ offense possesses, Sadler replied: “Our mantra is, ‘Score every time we have the football, period, the end.’ I mean, that’s our goal. We want to do that.”
When told a few minutes later what Sadler said, Knox offered a predictable, tongue-in-cheek response about Temple’s defense: “We’re going to try to allow zero points all season. It would be nice to get that average down a little bit.”
All kidding aside, though, simply review the Wildcats’ two games in the Class 6A Division II state playoffs last December to gain some additional context regarding the two coordinators’ statements.
In the bi-district matchup with Waxahachie at Wildcat Stadium, Temple’s defense actually did allow zero points, recording its first postseason shutout since 1993 as the Wildcats permitted only 152 yards in a dominant 38-0 win, their first playoff victory as a 6A program.
But one week later in its area-round showdown with high-powered Rockwall-Heath, Temple’s offense essentially needed to live up to Sadler’s mission of scoring on every possession. That’s because the Hawks’ unrelenting offense overwhelmed the Wildcats’ suddenly vulnerable defense, exploding for 446 passing yards and 661 overall – scoring three touchdowns of 45-plus yards – in a 56-28 win at Baylor’s McLane Stadium in Waco.
“We just didn’t execute very well, and they played a really good game. You just go back through it and you say, ‘Where can we get better?’” Knox said. “When you play good teams, you’re going to see the spots that are glaring that you’ve got to get better at. I watched (the game film) as soon as we got back. It wasn’t anything hard. It was just, ‘How can we get better?’ You’ve got to be up for the challenge.”
So after Temple allowed zero points one week but then eight touchdowns the next week to finish its stellar season with a 10-2 record, it was back to work for head coach Scott Stewart, Knox, Sadler and all the other Wildcats coaches and players who now are ready to kick off the 2021 campaign.
“I wouldn’t say I’m over the playoff game (vs. Rockwall-Heath), but it’s in the past and I can’t change the result. So I’m just looking forward to Week 1,” said Wildcats junior middle linebacker Taurean York, last season’s District 12-6A Defensive MVP for his team that won the league championship at 7-0.
Temple isn’t exactly easing its way into the new season, either. Its opening opponent at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium is perennial power Austin Westlake, which captured the 6A Division II state championship in 2019 and the 6A Division I state crown last season.
Powered by Clemson-committed quarterback Cade Klubnik and a stubborn defense coordinated by former Mary Hardin-Baylor safety Tony Salazar, the Chaparrals are the state's No. 1-ranked team as head coach Todd Dodge embarks on his final season before retiring.
SEARCHING FOR IMPROVEMENT: Temple sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart addresses his team after the Wildcats' scrimmage at College Station last Thursday. As defending District 12-6A champion Temple seeks its ninth consecutive playoff berth, Stewart (48-16 career record) said the Wildcats must correct the problems that arose during the scrimmage, particularly a defensive unit that allowed several long-range touchdowns. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Starting his sixth year as Temple’s head coach, Stewart (48-16 with five playoff trips) embraces the huge challenge that Westlake’s juggernaut immediately presents for the Wildcats, who are ranked No. 35 in 6A. The coach’s main message to his team before the Chaps roll into town Friday evening?
“Go get in a dogfight. Turn off the scoreboard. I couldn’t care less what it says,” said Stewart, whose first-year starting quarterback is sophomore Reese Rumfield. “My deal with teams that are way better than you probably statistically or projected is, make them prove it. I’ll tell you, Westlake is damn good. They are not going to beat themselves. They looked like a Week 10 team (in last Friday's scrimmage at Cedar Park).
“So again, let’s go strap it up, and if they’re already that good, don’t give it to them. Make them prove it, make them earn it, and if they earn, you shake their hand and say, ‘Good job.’ Why do you schedule games like this? To figure out what you need to work on.”
Temple begins its season with consecutive home games against Westlake, Magnolia West – whose new head coach is former Wildcats offensive coordinator Ben McGehee – and Hutto before getting an open date. The Wildcats start their seven-game 12-6A schedule Sept. 24 at Bryan, followed by their district home opener Oct. 1 against emerging Harker Heights. Temple will seek its ninth straight victory over rival Belton on Oct. 15 at Tiger Field.
Last Thursday’s scrimmage at always-strong College Station revealed that Temple has plenty of room to make improvements. The Wildcats’ defense allowed a slew of big-play touchdowns against the rush and the pass, and their offense struggled to get enough push up front to run the ball effectively.
“My deal is, ‘Let’s go to work, OK?’ One hundred percent (of the problems are) fixable. Number one is, in a scrimmage we don’t gameplan (for the opponent). We didn’t go in worried about what they do. We go in saying, ‘We’re going to run our base stuff, they’re going to know it, so now it’s about execution.’ I feel like some of our faults in execution (on defense) were bad technique and bad eyes.
“The message I had for them was, ‘Some of you guys are relying on instincts that you don’t have. If you didn’t have any (interceptions) and we’re getting beat deep, I’m going to ask you to do it our way. Try it our way, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll go back to the drawing board. But right now you’re doing it your way, and what you proved is that your way doesn’t work.’”
On the topic of Temple’s goals this season, Stewart at this early stage isn’t overly concerned about them. Texas Football magazine predicts the Wildcats to repeat as 12-6A champions ahead of Harker Heights, Bryan and Killeen Shoemaker, but Stewart isn’t taking the bait.
“I don’t subscribe to talking about district championships in August,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t have one conversation (about winning district) until the week of the Shoemaker game. I’ve learned the hard way not to look ahead.
“To me, it’s kind of fluid because you’ve got to figure out where you are to figure out where you’re going. At this point, after kind of a shaky scrimmage, it’s like, ‘Let’s find out who we are. What can we do well?’ I don’t care if we go down to two (offensive) plays and one (defensive) coverage.”
However, there are some things Stewart wants to see his Wildcats – who seek a ninth straight postseason berth – accomplish by season’s end.
“Obviously we’d like to be in the conversation for representing the district in the playoffs,” said Stewart, who as a rookie head coach in 2016 guided Temple to a state runner-up finish in 5A Division I. “Our goals are to win the day, practice during Thanksgiving and then get into December. People will always remember, in traditional years, teams that play in December. That means you’re in Round 4. That would be a goal.”
But those who think that Stewart and Temple desperately want a second-round playoff rematch this year with No. 11 Rockwall-Heath – coached by former Wildcats head coach Mike Spradlin – might be disappointed.
“I would love to play them again, because I don’t think we put our best foot forward, but I’m not sitting here frothing. I don’t care,” Stewart said. “I will focus on them, at the very most, one week out of the year. And that’s if I have to. I haven’t stayed up and thought about that. We’ve watched the (2020 Rockwall-Heath) film and said, ‘We could’ve done this and should’ve done this,’ but I think that’s a lot of wasted energy.”
From a player's perspective, Howard said the Wildcats certainly want to earn another shot at Rockwall-Heath come postseason play.
“We want revenge because we know we’re going to see them again in the second round if everything works out," Howard said. "Definitely we were all hurt (by the loss), but we knew we couldn’t sob about it and linger on it. We attacked every day like we knew what we had to do.”
DYNAMIC THREAT: Temple running back Samari Howard (8) sprints for a long gain against Waxahachie as quarterback Humberto Arizmendi looks to block during the Wildcats' 38-0 win in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game last December at Wildcat Stadium. Howard, who shared the District 12-6A Most Valuable Player award, now returns for his senior season after rushing for 1,261 yards and 16 touchdowns, catching 24 passes for 347 yards and six TDs and scoring five 2-point conversions last year. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple’s offense in 2020 was both dynamic and balanced, averaging 418.5 yards per game while rushing for 2,401 yards and passing for 2,202. Senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi was a first-team all-district selection in his only varsity season.
The Wildcats have the district’s best returning offensive player in versatile senior running back Samari Howard, who shared 12-6A’s Most Valuable Player award. The 5-foot-8, 175-pound Howard rushed for 1,261 yards and 16 touchdowns, made 24 receptions for 347 yards and six TDs and added five 2-point conversions to score 142 points.
With 220 career points, Howard – who rushed for 13 touchdowns as a sophomore – has a great opportunity to break Lache Seastrunk’s all-time Temple record of 312 points after four-year starting kicker Aaron Wagaman compiled 303 points from 2017-20. In addition, Howard has scored 35 career touchdowns and needs 18 this season to surpass Seastrunk's program record of 52 TDs from 2007-09.
“We’re going to move Samari all over the field. I want to see him play in the slot, I want to see him play outside some and, of course, he can play running back and quarterback,” Sadler said. “Again, it comes down to matchups. Can we put him against somebody that we feel like he can win battles with? That’s the key.”
Seniors Jalen Robinson and Tavaris Sullivan also are in the mix at running back.
Rumfield is the Wildcats’ sixth Game 1 quarterback in Stewart’s six seasons in charge, following standouts Reid Hesse, TJ Rumfield (Reese’s cousin), Jared Wiley, Vance Willis and Arizmendi. However, he’s the first non-senior among that group.
The 6-foot, 173-pound Rumfield transferred from Midlothian Heritage to Temple in May after his father, former Belton standout Brock Rumfield, was hired to join the Wildcats’ coaching staff. Strong performances in the Blue-White spring game, the summer 7-on-7 season and in training camp put Rumfield in position to earn the starting job, which he solidified by throwing touchdown passes of 71 and 42 yards to Howard and junior wide receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot, respectively, in the scrimmage at College Station.
Temple hasn’t had a sophomore starting quarterback since Zach Allen in 2010, but Stewart said Rumfield – a confident and skilled passer – separated himself in a preseason competition that included senior Kaleb Hill and also Luke Law and Damarion Willis, sophomores who will begin the season on junior varsity.
YOUNG PLAYER, BIG OPPORTUNITY: Sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield, who threw two touchdown passes in last Thursday's scrimmage at College Station, will start for Temple in its season opener against Class 6A No. 1-ranked Austin Westlake at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium. Rumfield transferred from Midlothian Heritage in May after his father, Belton graduate Brock Rumfield, was hired by Temple head coach Scott Stewart as an assistant coach. Rumfield is the Wildcats' sixth opening-game QB in Stewart's six seasons at the helm. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Going against Westlake’s stingy defense is a challenging matchup for Rumfield’s first career start, but Stewart is eager to see how Rumfield handles both good and bad situations as he begins what could be a three-year run as the Wildcats’ QB.
“I’d love to have him for 50 games. We’ll just have to see how that goes,” Stewart said of Rumfield, who’ll be backed up by a combination of Hill, Harrison-Pilot and Howard. “Our message (to him) this week is, ‘Look, dude. They’re good. The windows are going to be small. See what you see and take a rip. If you screw it up, fire and fall back. We’re going to do it again.’”
Said Howard about Rumfield's steady improvement: "With the short amount of time Reese has had over the summer with 7-on-7 and learning all the plays, he’s done a phenomenal job. From Day 1 until now, you can see a big difference. He’s the cousin of TJ Rumfield, and I think he’s going to do as well as him, or even better. That’s my confidence in him. I’m just glad we got him here.”
Rumfield has an appealing, big-play target in Harrison-Pilot, who started at free safety as a freshman, then moved to inside receiver last year and earned first-team all-district status after making 38 catches for 502 yards and seven touchdowns. A four-star recruit with dozens of scholarship offers from major college programs, the 6-foot, 190-pound Harrison-Pilot also could see time at QB in special packages. His late touchdown run at Shoemaker last year pushed Temple to the outright district championship.
“I’d say 1,000 receiving yards is the No. 1 stat goal I want to get,” Harrison-Pilot said. “And I just want to become a better leader, be a better role model and be inspiring."
Speedy senior receiver Tr’Darius Taylor (18 catches, 345 yards, four TDs) returns as a dangerous deep threat, and he was the first-team all-district kick returner last year. Tall, athletic outside receiver Devan Williams is back in town for his senior season after moving to Wichita Falls City View for his junior year. In 2019 he got varsity playing time with Temple as a defensive back.
The Wildcats’ group of receivers also includes seniors Michael Heckstall, Nyles Moreland, Kobe Smith, Andre Anderson and Nikolas Skinner.
"I think we’re way better skill-wise and way more explosive," Harrison-Pilot said. "We’re a fast offense. Everybody’s fast."
Ke’Andre Smith, a capable blocker and receiver, returns as the starting tight end after a strong junior season and is joined by senior Gerardo Gonzalez.
“The luxury is that we have a lot of good athletes on the offensive side,” said Sadler, whose offense generated 503 yards in the playoff loss to Rockwall-Heath. “The problem I’m faced with is putting kids in the right spots for good matchups so that we can score when we need to. And that’s a good problem to have.”
The offensive line will be a work in progress, as was the case last year with what became a strong group. Senior Colby Rice is the lone returning starter and moves from right tackle to left tackle. The other projected starters are sophomore left guard Endrei Sauls, senior center Jose Faz, junior right guard Agustin Silva and junior right tackle Dexter Hewitt. Juniors Koran Lumpkins and Jeremiah Mungia provide line depth.
Meanwhile, senior kicker Danis Bajric aims to replace the accurate, productive Wagaman.
The breakdowns Temple’s defense suffered against Rockwall-Heath were not indicative of how the unit played throughout the season. The active, sure-tackling Wildcats had allowed only 263 yards per game coming into their second-round playoff test.
“I think we executed pretty well, but it’s just (a matter of) consistency and gelling across the board,” Knox said about the performance of Temple’s 4-2-5 defense in 2020.
Six starters return: two-time leading tackler York (94 tackles) at middle linebacker, reliable senior linebacker Faylin Lee (42 tackles, two interceptions), first-team all-district senior end Eric Shorter (65 tackles), senior tackle Tommy Torres (37 tackles) – who played at end last year – and two senior safeties in first-team all-district pick O’Tarian Peoples and Jaden Jackson (48 tackles).
Jackson and the imposing, cerebral Torres (6-5, 255) were second-team all-district performers. Marshall Grays also was a second-team all-league pick at outside linebacker as a junior but did not return for his senior season.
The line’s two new starters are junior end Jaylon Jackson, who played well last year as a reserve tackle, and sophomore tackle Ayden Brown (6-0, 250), who got valuable varsity playing time as a freshman.
Junior safety Zion Moore shows strong potential for Temple, which is breaking in two new starting cornerbacks in senior LeMichael Thompson and junior Naeten Mitchell. Stewart has commended the work ethic of Mitchell, a talented and skilled player who moved in from Manor after last season.
With senior Triston Cohorn available at cornerback, Mitchell also is practicing at a safety position after Peoples and others struggled to keep up with College Station’s skill-position speed during last week’s scrimmage.
“In the defensive backfield we’re working a little spin package for contingency plans and just for accountability,” Stewart said. “We had some guys who didn’t perform to standard technically and, some of them, effort-wise. Film doesn't lie. And so we’ve worked a little spin plan, which I think does one of two things. It either makes a kid quit or it gets his attention and he goes, ‘Oh, crap, if I want to keep my spot (I have to play better).’”
Stewart and Knox said they’re committed to giving Harrison-Pilot regular playing time at the “boom” safety position this season to take advantage of his athletic ability and instincts.
Seniors Jaquez Freeman and Javarrus Mackey and junior Landon Halvorson provide depth at linebacker, and senior backup end Dion Saunders returned a fumble forced by Torres 53 yards for a touchdown last week at College Station. Senior reserve tackle Franquan Sauls made an interception in that scrimmage.
Remaining healthy is of paramount importance for the Wildcats’ defense, in large part because Stewart said Temple’s junior and sophomore football classes are much smaller than normal. The Wildcats already lost senior safety and projected starter Johnny Donoso to a season-ending knee injury during summer 7-on-7 action.
“Depth on the defensive side is our biggest concern,” said Stewart, who added that the Wildcats’ larger freshman class shows signs of becoming a special group.
Primed for another stellar season as essentially the quarterback of Temple’s defense is York (5-11, 215), the reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP. He’s been the starting middle linebacker since he was a 14-year-old freshman in 2019.
So, what was York's reaction when he saw that Texas Football chose Bryan senior linebacker Nic Caraway – whose Vikings lost 44-7 last year at Temple – as 12-6A's preseason Defensive MVP this year?
“I took it personal, for sure,” said York, who improved his speed during the offseason and ranks near the top of his class academically. “To see that they put that in the magazine, I felt like, ‘It’s time to go.' If they don’t think I can win defensive MVP, I might try to go win all-around MVP just because they said that."
Said Knox about his highly motivated junior linebacker: “Taurean’s always been good with the mental part of the game. I think he’s still playing with a chip on his shoulder, which is good. He’s got a fire under him, and I hope the whole defense has a fire under them.”