OPTIONS GALORE: As Temple begins practice, Stewart says QB hopefuls could keep Harrison-Pilot at WR
VERSATILE PERFORMER: Mikal Harrison-Pilot scores the go-ahead touchdown run late in Temple's win at Killeen Shoemaker last season that clinched the outright District 12-6A championship. Already a two-year varsity starter, the highly recruited junior could become the Wildcats' starting quarterback this season but head coach Scott Stewart said he thinks Temple could be an even more dangerous team if Harrison-Pilot remains at wide receiver, where he was a first-team all-district pick in 2020. The Wildcats begin practice Monday evening. Their season opener is Aug. 27 at home against Austin Westlake, winner of two consecutive state championships. (File photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Mikal Harrison-Pilot seems to possess all the tools to be a very dangerous and successful quarterback for the Temple Wildcats. The incoming junior and four-star recruit has a strong throwing arm, is a decisive, elusive runner and has two full seasons of experience as a varsity starter, at safety and receiver, respectively.
So as Temple prepares to begin practice for the 2021 season on Monday evening, why isn't the versatile, highly recruited Harrison-Pilot penciled in as the Wildcats' likely starting quarterback?
Well, because sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart – in consultation with offensive coordinator Josh Sadler and other assistants – believes that Temple might be an even better team with Harrison-Pilot catching passes instead of throwing them, even though the 6-foot-1, 185-pound athlete probably could handle the QB duties admirably.
“I don't have a precept on who the starting quarterback at Temple High School is. It's who gives us the best chance to be successful, and that's who will play,” Stewart, who has a 48-16 record and five playoff berths in as many seasons as Temple's coach, said Wednesday afternoon.
Incoming sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield threw two touchdown passes in Temple's Blue-White spring game in late May, only a couple weeks after he transferred in from Midlothian Heritage following the hiring of his father, former Belton football and baseball standout Brock Rumfield, as a Wildcats assistant coach. The 6-foot, 175-pound Rumfield might have the best upside among the quarterbacks who aren't named Harrison-Pilot.
“Reese comes in with a lot of tools and you can tell he's been coached at a very high level,” Stewart said. “Mechanically he's very sound. A lot of (his development since moving to Temple) was just learning the system, and the summer was great for him.”
Senior Kaleb Hill also is competing for the QB position along with 6-5, 200-pound sophomore Luke Law – he transferred in from Salado in March – and possibly sophomore Damarion Willis.
“Luke's come in and it's been a brand-new system altogether,” Stewart said of Law, who previously operated out of Salado's run-heavy Slot-T formation. “He's a big kid and he's got a big league arm.”
Then-senior Humberto Arizmendi wasn't named Temple's starting quarterback last year until after the Wildcats' lone preseason scrimmage, when he edged out Harrison-Pilot in a close competition and went on to start every game in a 10-2 season that featured an undefeated march to a district championship.
It's a similar situation entering this season's training camp. Stewart indicated that he'd like for one of the aforementioned contenders to emerge as the clear-cut top quarterback, which would allow Harrison-Pilot to remain at receiver – where he was a first-team all-district performer in 2020 – and concentrate on using his playmaking abilities there.
In addition, there's a strong likelihood that Harrison-Pilot – who has scholarship offers from 30 NCAA FBS programs, including Texas, Baylor, Texas Christian, Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami (Fla.), Arkansas, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Southern California and Oregon – will get more action in the defensive backfield this season. He was a second-team all-district free safety as a freshman.
“Mikal's going to play quarterback if something unforeseen happens. In other words, I feel like we've got enough guys (at quarterback),” Stewart said. “Again, when we put pads on that may change. But from what we saw through spring ball and talking with our offensive coordinator and offensive coaches, we feel like we've got what we need at quarterback, and I just think it changes the dynamic when you put an athlete like Mikal out wide.
“We'll probably have some packages for him (at QB), because he is a good enough athlete. I mean, a year ago he was fighting for the starting spot. He's probably the best athlete in Temple, or at least one of them. He's in the top five, no questions asked. I have zero qualms that Mikal Harrison-Pilot can come in and run this offense efficiently. (And) Mikal will play some defense for us.”
Stewart compared Temple's quarterback situation to the one it faced entering the 2017 season. After senior TJ Rumfield and junior Jared Wiley battled for the position, Stewart and the Wildcats' coaches selected pocket passer Rumfield as the starting QB because the big, athletic Wiley also was a potent receiver and blocker at tight end. It worked out well as Temple went 10-4, reaching the Class 5A Division I Region III final. And the next year, Wiley – now a tight end at Texas – produced an outstanding season as the Wildcats' starting quarterback.
“It goes back to the same philosophy as we used with TJ and Jared in 2017. Which one of those guys can play another position and which of those guys can't?” Stewart said about the way Temple might decide its current quarterback competition.
Temple generally favors morning practices early in camp, but teacher in-service is pushing the Wildcats into evening workouts throughout the first week. Stewart said the approximately 150 incoming seniors, juniors and sophomores will report to campus Monday afternoon and train on the grass practice fields from 6 p.m. until at least 8. He's expecting 100 freshmen – including his son, Kade, a quarterback and safety – to report earlier Monday afternoon.
Temple's players will be limited to shorts, shirts and helmets for the first two days, then will add shoulder pads Wednesday through Friday before they put on full pads Saturday, when they'll meet at Wildcat Stadium for team photographs and then likely have a light intrasquad scrimmage.
The Wildcats' lone scrimmage is set for Thursday, Aug. 19 at familiar opponent and perennial playoff qualifier College Station. That will set the stage for Temple's Aug. 27 season opener at Wildcat Stadium against perennial power Austin Westlake, winner of the 6A Division II state championship in 2019 and the 6A Division I state title last season. Chaparrals senior quarterback Cade Klubnik is a Clemson commitment and ranked by some media outlets as the country's top high school QB.
Stewart looks forward to seeing how his Wildcats handle themselves against the formidable Westlake squad of head coach Todd Dodge, who plans to retire after the upcoming season. Former Mary Hardin-Baylor standout safety Tony Salazar is the Chaps' defensive coordinator. and is expected to be a top candidate to succeed Dodge as head coach.
“I like playing good people. Westlake, that's a tough draw. But again, nobody has any higher expectations for the Temple Wildcats than Scott Stewart. And I've never been anywhere where the expectations are this high,” Stewart said. “People think I'm absolutely crazy, but my job is not to log as many wins as we can. My job is to try to put the best product on the field, and some of that is, in my opinion, finding out where you're deficient, and finding out early where you're deficient.
“We're going to play the No. 1 team in the state, and I'm going to guess they're pretty physical. If you can go to (Galena Park) North Shore and handle them boys, that's a physical brand of football. Do we want to be physical or do we want to play a bunch of cupcakes? We've played perennial playoff teams every non-district game.”
Temple's coach said it's all about challenging the Wildcats' players early to see what looks good and what needs improvement.
“You want to shrink their eyes in Week 1,” Stewart said. “We may be playing at home, but it's going to go one of two ways. We're going to either shrink our eyes and realize that we can play with anybody in the country, because those (Westlake) guys are rated with anybody in the country, or we'll know exactly just how deficient (we are) and in what spots we're deficient. That doesn't ruffle my feathers.”
The Westlake showdown will be the first of three consecutive non-district home games for Temple, which picked up another date at Wildcat Stadium because Hutto, which originally was scheduled to host the Wildcats on Sept. 10, has run into delays with the renovation of its stadium.
After hosting Westlake, Magnolia West and Hutto, Temple will get its open date before the Wildcats begin defense of their District 12-6A championship on Sept. 24 at Bryan.
“We don't go on the road until Week 5. Bryan's always tough there. In 2016 I thought we were discernibly better than they were, (but) they just defend that turf a little bit differently. Not that they're bad on the road, but it's always harder (playing) there,” said Stewart, whose 2016 Wildcats pulled out a 37-34 win over the host Vikings in the district finale before advancing to the 5A Division I state title game. “I would prefer our first game away not to be Bryan, because they play their tails off at home and they're going to be good. I've got them slated in the top two or three in the district, a playoff team in my mind.
"You'd like to get a non-district game on the road. I think it served us well playing at AT&T (Stadium in Arlington, opening the 2020 season with a win over Longview) and then having to go to Magnolia West. One of the ups is at least we're going to scrimmage at College Station, which is obviously an elite program, so we'll get some of that practice. We're home three weeks in a row and I think that's good for Temple. We obviously like playing on our home turf, but I just like having a practice run at everything.”
Temple's Dexter Knox-coordinated defense has a slew of established returning starters, led by junior middle linebacker and reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP Taurean York and including seniors Eric Shorter at end, Tommy Torres at tackle, O'Tarian Peoples at safety and Faylin Lee at linebacker.
Stewart has high marks for the work ethic and ability of junior cornerback and projected starter Naeten Mitchell, who moved back to Temple last January. Senior Devan Williams is expected to start at wide receiver and Stewart said, “He's a really good route runner with real good ball skills,” but the coach added that Williams also might contribute on defense in the secondary, where he played as a sophomore in 2019 before moving to Wichita Falls City View.
The Wildcats' depth on defense and special teams took a significant hit when senior safety and projected starter Johnny Donoso suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament this summer during a 7-on-7 qualifying tournament in Abilene. He was a versatile and valuable performer on defense last year, playing a variety of positions and filling in when starters missed time.
“Johnny was going to be a huge part. He had the ACL at 7-on-7, non-contact, just a freakish deal. That hurts,” Stewart said of Donoso, who underwent reconstructive surgery in late July and figures to make a push to be ready for his senior baseball season next spring. “It sucks for that kid. He was a slated starter, no questions asked. He was going to start on four special teams. Those are the guys you try to find, because those are program changers. Johnny Donoso is a program changer. He's got a great attitude and works his tail off.”
Stewart said the offseason development and emergence of senior receivers Nyles Moreland and Michael Heckstall along with the return of fleet-footed senior receiver Tr'Darius Taylor could supply Temple with the flexibility to give Harrison-Pilot and Williams more snaps on defense as needed.
Certainly not to be overlooked is do-it-all senior running back Samari Howard, a versatile workhorse who shared 12-6A's overall MVP award last season after rushing for 1,261 yards and 16 touchdowns, making 24 receptions for 347 yards and six TDs and scoring 142 points overall. He's also a go-to weapon on special teams.
“We're going to use him in every way we possibly can,” Stewart said of Howard, whose college offers include Army, Navy and Air Force. “There's not much that kid hasn't done on a football field. He's played quarterback, he's played running back, he can play slot receiver. There's nothing that kid can't do and there's not a lot that kid hasn't seen."