STRONGER EVERY DAY: Stewart expects offseason strength gains to show as Temple starts spring drills
Updated: Apr 24, 2022
TACKLING MACHINE: Temple junior linebacker Taurean York tackles Rockwall-Heath running back Zach Evans during the Wildcats' 45-33 loss to the fifth-ranked Hawks in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game last Nov. 19 in Burleson. The Baylor-committed York made 141 tackles last year while earning his second straight District 12-6A Defensive MVP award for Temple, which began its four weeks of spring practice on Tuesday afternoon. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
In the aftermath of Temple’s 45-33 area-round playoff loss to Rockwall-Heath last November, Wildcats head coach Scott Stewart knew that something had to change.
It wasn’t a case of Temple not being competitive against the fifth-ranked, talent-laden Hawks – far from it, actually. In a hard-hitting, back-and-forth rematch of Rockwall-Heath’s 56-28 second-round win a year earlier, the Wildcats trailed by only two points deep into the third quarter in Burleson.
But in the end, Temple couldn’t physically prevent the high-scoring Hawks from doing what they wanted to do during crunch time, and the Wildcats went home before the third round of the postseason for the fourth straight year.
So as Stewart processed a 9-3 season that was highlighted by Temple’s second consecutive unbeaten District 12-6A championship, he vowed in late November that the Wildcats’ offseason training regimen would feature even more time and hard work in the weight room than normal, all with a major emphasis on upgrading the team’s physical strength for high-stakes battles in the future.
“Well, we’re about to get medieval. We’re going to get back to some old-school stuff,” Stewart said on Nov. 30. “We do a lot of good stuff, and I just want to get back to basics. Strong kids are usually tougher, and we’re going to focus extremely hard from now to the middle of February on grinding in that weight room. We call it ‘The Factory,’ and if you’re going to call it ‘The Factory,’ treat it like it’s a factory. Factories don’t run two days a week and make a profit, so we’re going to open up the factory. It’s open for business. Assembly line. We’re going to get medieval.”
As Temple prepared to begin its four weeks of spring practice on Tuesday afternoon, Stewart confirmed that the past 4½ months have challenged the Wildcats to make significant gains in their physical strength as they get closer to the 2022 season opener against McKinney on Aug. 27 at McKinney ISD Stadium.
“We laid it out, and I told them that what’s not going to be an option is getting pushed around on the football field. And so it’s, ‘Trust me until I can show you, and if you don’t trust me, get your (butt) in there anyway,’” said Stewart, who’s guided Temple to a 57-19 record with six playoff berths in six seasons. “I think kids can pick up on if you believe in what you’re doing.”
The Wildcats plan to practice four times in each of the next four weeks, with a weekly scrimmage. Temple will punctuate spring drills with its annual Blue-White game on the evening of May 12 at Bob McQueen Field at Wildcat Stadium.
Stewart praises the job that Temple strength and conditioning coach Ryan Boutwell as done since he arrived in 2020, but Stewart says he felt it was vital to take a more hands-on approach as the Wildcats flushed the playoff loss out of their system and got back into the weight room for the winter. And for the first phase of Temple’s workouts, Stewart was the guy blowing the whistle.
“I don’t think of myself as if I’m up here and everybody else is down here, but I do know that I’ve never been anywhere where the head ball coach is the one blowing the whistle (during strength and conditioning workouts),” Stewart said. “We had to work through that logistic, too, because someone else did it (previously). I’m not trying to usurp or override anyone’s authority or input or anything like that.
“It’s a different dynamic. The coaches saw it in a different light, and I think the kids saw it in a different light. Once we got to phase two, that’s (Boutwell’s) expertise. I don’t want to take anything away from him, because he has completely revamped the way we develop kids.”
That second phase includes all the other performance-based areas in which Temple wants its players to improve – speed, quickness, agility and explosion among them.
Temple’s defense allowed 515 total yards – 289 passing, 226 rushing – in the 12-point playoff loss to Rockwall-Heath, but the physicality of that game likely took its toll on the Hawks. One week later they lost 35-21 in a Class 6A Division II Region II semifinal against an underdog Tomball team that used a power rushing game to keep the ball away from Rockwall-Heath’s prolific attack.
The carryover effect of the Temple game was not lost on Rockwall-Heath head coach and former Temple head coach Mike Spradlin, who retired after the season.
“I think we played our guts out against Rockwall-Heath. I have zero regrets how we played. Coach Spradlin even made a comment, like, ‘Won the battle, lost the war.’ They didn’t come out of that game unscathed,” Stewart said. “They had some kids limping around. I talked to the Tomball coach and he felt like and obviously his kids felt like they play a physical band of football. You’ve got to earn that. You can’t just talk that talk.”
A major priority for Temple’s Josh Sadler-coordinated offense during spring practice and into the summer is developing a successor to three-year workhorse running back Samari Howard, the dynamic Army West Point commitment who will depart as the Wildcats’ career leader in touchdowns (57) and total points (360).
Stewart said incoming senior Deshaun Brundage, junior-to-be Jervonnie Williams and rising sophomore Adrian Scott are among the top contenders at running back.
After transferring to Temple late last spring, sophomore Reese Rumfield won the quarterback competition and went on to pass for 1,831 yards and 24 touchdowns against seven interceptions as he earned first-team all-district honors.
Although Rumfield’s varsity experience clearly is a factor, Stewart made it clear that 6-foot-6 incoming junior Luke Law – who quarterbacked Temple’s junior varsity team to a 12-6A championship and then excelled for the varsity basketball squad – will have ample opportunity to challenge Rumfield for the QB position in spring drills and preseason camp.
“Production is going to rule the day,” Stewart said, adding that he can envision a strategy in which Rumfield and Law take turns running the offense if that’s deemed best to help the team succeed. “I’m not afraid of doing that.”
In the quarterback mix as well is star senior-to-be Mikal Harrison-Pilot, the four-star recruit who’s a dynamic wide receiver – he also plays safety when needed – and gave Temple's offense an instant spark at QB when he replaced Rumfield against 12-6A runner-up Harker Heights and Rockwall-Heath.
Rising junior Damarion Willis is expected to focus more on playing defense next season after getting some reserve duty at QB in 2021. Stewart’s son Kade Stewart, an incoming sophomore, quarterbacked the Wildcats’ top freshman team to a district title.
Temple’s offense expects to benefit from the stellar blocking of incoming junior Endrei Sauls, a first-team all-district pick, and seniors-to-be Jeremiah Mungia and Agustin Silva as well as incoming senior fullback/H-back Landon Halvorson.
Leading the charge for Temple’s Dexter Knox-coordinated defense are two seasoned seniors-to-be in Baylor-committed linebacker Taurean York and safety Naeten Mitchell. Three-year starter York made 141 tackles last season as he earned his second consecutive 12-6A Defensive MVP award. The savvy, hard-nosed Mitchell collected 73 tackles and three interceptions.
Incoming junior nose tackle Ayden Brown was 12-6A's Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, and lineman Jaylon Jackson (seven sacks) and strong safety Zion Moore (54 tackles) are two incoming senior defenders whom the Wildcats trust to make big plays.
Stewart said senior-to-be lineman Kamorion Carter, a reserve last year, has made large strides in his strength and knowledge during the offseason.