WORTH THE WAIT: Senior defensive linemen Carter, Stockton shining in first season as Temple starters
FORCES UP FRONT: Senior end Kevin Stockton (left) and senior tackle Ka'Morion Carter are excelling in their first season as starters for Temple's defensive line. The 5-foot-10, 220-pound Stockton ranks third on the team with 34 tackles, while Carter (5-11, 250) paces the Wildcats with six sacks among his 21 tackles. District 12-6A co-leader Temple (5-2, 3-0) plays its homecoming game against Hutto (3-3, 0-2) at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Temple’s football program is not hesitant to place young players in prominent roles if their talent and skills match what the team needs.
Current senior stars Mikal Harrison-Pilot and Taurean York have been productive starters on varsity since the first game of their freshman season. Their former teammate Samari Howard was a stellar running back for three years from 2019-21, and Aaron Wagaman was a key weapon as the Wildcats' kicker from 2017-20.
Junior quarterback Reese Rumfield already is entering his 20th career start. One of his top targets is sophomore wide receiver Christian Tutson, who’s scored eight touchdowns. And junior center Endrei Sauls is on track to become a three-year starter on the offensive line.
However, the Wildcats program also gets a meaningful boost from the unheralded young men who must play the long game by continuing to work hard and remain patient until their time to shine finally arrives during their senior year.
Some recent examples of that for Temple would include quarterback Humberto Arizmendi – the junior varsity QB his entire junior season – and center Matthew Frye in 2020 and another undersized center in Jose Faz in 2021.
Current Wildcats senior defensive linemen Ka’Morion Carter and Kevin Stockton certainly fall into that category.
Carter, a tackle, got limited playing time last season as a junior while backing up first-team all-district senior tackle Tommy Torres. Carter made 11 tackles and one sack, primarily in late-game duty.
Stockton, an end, played one game on JV last year before being called up to varsity to provide depth on the defensive line. Behind senior anchor end and three-year starter Eric Shorter, Stockton played sparingly and recorded three tackles.
But now it's 2022, and it’s their turn.
The 5-foot-11, 250-pound Carter has compiled six sacks and 21 tackles for District 12-6A co-leader Temple (5-2, 3-0), while the 5-10, 220-pound Stockton ranks third on the Wildcat defense with 34 tackles entering the Wildcats’ homecoming game against the Hutto Hippos (3-3, 0-2) at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium.
Typical of his pleasant but mostly reserved personality, Stockton is neither surprised nor overly impressed by how he’s performed in his debut season as Temple’s starter at anchor end.
“It’s been pretty good. I just wanted to set the tempo early in predistrict and let people know we’re not here to play around,” said Thornton, who made 10 tackles in Temple’s season-opening 17-10 victory at McKinney. “I don’t try to pay attention to stats too much. Obviously I see it, but I just want the team to take it week by week so that we can progress and go far in the playoffs. That’s the goal.”
For Carter, whose personality can alternate between serious and boisterous, he’s now fulfilling the self-belief he’s had the whole time.
“I came in thinking I could get the job done. I felt last year I could get the job done, but I just never got my opportunity. I feel like this year I’ve gotten the opportunity and showed that I can do it,” said Carter, who's commonly called Kam by his teammates and coaches. “I’m not trying to prove something. I’m just trying to get better every day at practice so I can produce better on the field and help my team out for the win.”
For defensive-minded Temple head coach Scott Stewart, Carter and Stockton have provided exactly what this Wildcats squad needed.
“Both of them do a good job of gap control. They maintain their gaps. They don’t just whip people, but they don’t get demolished either,” Stewart said. “They’re consistent. I doubt people are like, ‘Oh, my God, look at this kid.’ But they’re also a handful and they win their share of 1-on-1 matches. They’re just high-motor guys and they do a good job of assignment football. Sometimes it’s just not letting bad stuff happen as much as it is making something good happen.”
Temple defensive coordinator Dexter Knox went into the last offseason with two skilled, battle-tested linemen returning in first-team all-district senior end Jaylon Jackson and junior nose tackle Ayden Brown, the 12-6A Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
However, the other two D-line positions were up for grabs because of the impending graduation of productive, active players Shorter and Torres. Fortunately for Knox and the Wildcat defense, Carter and Stockton have proven to be up to the task and then some.
“We had to have both of them step up, because we didn’t have many answers (in those positions),” said Knox, whose defense has allowed 16 points per game during district play and controlled longtime nemesis Waco Midway in a 44-10 road win last Friday night. “Kevin’s playing the same end that Eric played for three years, and Kam’s playing Tommy’s spot. Those are big shoes to fill, no doubt.
“Kevin’s played solid throughout, done his job and done what he’s supposed to do. He doesn’t miss assignments. He’s a solid player for us,” Knox added. “You’re not going to get just the greatest of pass rushes, but he does his job in the run game. He reads blocks well and you don’t have very many mess-ups with him. And Kam’s our sack leader. He’s not the swiftest of foot, but he gets the job done and gets back there. He has some really good pass rush moves. If you look at his sacks, they haven’t touched him.”
NOWHERE TO GO: Temple senior defensive tackle Ka'Morion Carter sacks Pflugerville Weiss sophomore quarterback Jax Brown inside the 5-yard line during the Wildcats' 32-19 victory Sept. 30 at Wildcat Stadum. It was one of two sacks that evening for Carter, the first-year starter who's compiled six sacks overall and has his eyes on surpassing the 11 1/2 sacks that Ta'Quon Graham had for Temple in 2016. Carter is the younger brother of Markel Carter, the Wildcats' standout center from 2017-19. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Whereas Stockton is the first person in his family to play football for Temple, Carter is following in the footsteps of his older brother Markel Carter, a three-year stalwart as the starting center on Wildcats playoff teams from 2017-19.
Kam Carter said Markel now attends his games and always is ready to critique his performance.
“Markel tries to say he can block me, but I don’t think he can,” Kam Carter said, smiling.
Although Carter didn’t play as much as he wanted to as a junior, that wasn’t because his coaches didn’t think he had enough raw ability to succeed. The imposing Torres and the havoc-causing Brown were fixtures in the middle of Temple’s line, and Carter had to become a better player on the practice field to earn the trust of his coaches.
“I challenged him last year. His dad had some questions and I told him, ‘Hey, come watch him practice.’ It wasn’t any bad intent toward Kam, because obviously everybody was seeing the same thing we see – when he gets in at the end of the game, he starts making plays,” Knox said. “But you’ve got to earn it. That was the only hang-up I had last year, was his effort in practice.
“It was like, ‘Can I trust you to get out there and be able to spell Tommy or Ayden?’ That was a big question mark for what it was going to look like this year, and Kam’s answered the call and done very well.”
Carter said the tough-love encouragement he’s received from Knox has been a crucial factor in his development.
“It’s great. Coach Knox has always been like a mentor toward me since my freshman and sophomore year. But since my junior year, he’s really been on top of me and told me to lock in and get the job done,” Carter said. “(Not being a starter last season) was frustrating, but coaches and friends just kept me in it and told me to be patient and my time was going to come.”
Knox is pleased that Carter absorbed the message of his pep talks and used them to make himself a better player who can be depended upon as a key contributor.
“The difference in Kam from last year to this year is that his work ethic has changed a lot. Because he knew it was going to be his last year, I think that kind of gave him a wakeup call and a little sense of urgency. It started to mean a little bit more,” Knox said. “I remember having those talks, like, ‘Dude, we could rotate you in more, but we have to trust you. We have to be able to rely on you.’ And he’s been reliable this year. He’s doing a really good job.”
Employing a blend of size, strength, agility and football smarts, Carter has emerged as a force in the middle of Temple’s defensive line this season. His sacks have come in bunches: 1½ against Willis as the Wildcats won their home opener, 2½ in a loss at College Station and two in a 32-19 comeback win at home against Pflugerville Weiss two weeks ago.
Carter posted seven tackles and forced a fumble against Willis as Temple harassed and contained Wildkats highly recruited junior quarterback Derek Lagway, knocking him out of the game in the second half with a leg injury. Carter said that probably was his best game.
“Our coach made up a good defensive scheme of not letting (Lagway) scramble, and we just tried to set the tempo early and hit,” said Carter, who last Friday recovered a Midway fumble that Brown forced with a hard hit.
Carter said watching the aggressive Shorter the past few seasons made a big impact on how he wants to play.
“I picked a lot from Eric Shorter,” Carter said. “His motor never cut off. He always went 110 percent every play.”
Stockton’s assessment of Carter shed some light on why he’s a difficult matchup for opposing linemen.
“Kam’s very physical. You might want to put two (players) on him in the pass rush game, because he can make one man miss,” Stockton said. “And in the run game he’s pretty good as well, so I’d circle him if I was the other team.”
Said Carter in describing his own game: “I just try to trust my technique and be a little bit more physical than them.”
The most sacks a Temple defender has recorded since Stewart arrived as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator in 2014 is the 11½ of Ta’Quon Graham – now in his second season playing with the Atlanta Falcons – in 2016. That was Stewart’s first season as head coach and Temple played 16 games, reached the Class 5A Division I state championship game.
Carter needs six more sacks to surpass Graham’s mark, and it’s definitely on his radar.
“The personal goal for me is I want to break the sack record,” said Carter, who studies dominant defensive tackle Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and enjoys watching Texas Christian and Horned Frogs star junior wide receiver Quentin Johnston, a Temple graduate. “The team goal is to hopefully get better every day and go far. I feel like we have the potential to do that as a defense.”
LEADING THE CONVOY: Temple's Kevin Stockton (15) looks to block for fellow senior Steve Jackson on a return during the Wildcats' 44-10 win at Waco Midway last Friday. Defensive end Stockton recorded 10 tackles in his first varsity start, a 17-10 victory at McKinney in Temple's season opener. Overall he's made 34 stops, recovered a fumble and been credited with five quarterback pressures. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
As for Stockton, he played tight end and defensive end as a high school freshman, then had to miss his sophomore season because he said he had to address an issue with his blood pressure. Back healthy and on the field as a junior, Temple’s personnel needs flipped Stockton’s fortunes toward the defensive side.
“Come junior year, I played one game (on JV) at tight end and then some guys went down on varsity at defensive end,” Stockton recalled. “I played that (position) my freshman year and all of middle school, so they asked me to move up and I fell in love with it ever since then.”
With Shorter and Jackson manning Temple’s defensive end posts throughout the 2021 season, Stockton’s opportunities to contribute as a backup were limited and he finished with three tackles for the 12-6A champion Wildcats.
When the anchor end position finally opened up during the offseason, the strong, sturdy Stockton was ready to stake his claim and earn it.
“I just use what I have to my advantage,” Stockton said. “I just trust in the preparation and what the coaches have for us out there. I think they trust me enough and I just follow them.”
Knox appreciates Stockton’s steady demeanor and energy.
“Kevin’s very humble, very straight-line,” Knox said. “He’s just relaxed and doesn’t get too high or too low. He just keeps going.”
At 5-10 and 220 pounds, Stockton usually finds himself competing against offensive linemen who are several inches taller than him and outweigh him by 50 to 75 pounds.
“All the guys are pretty much bigger than me. I’m 5-10 and they’re always like 6-3 and way bigger than me,” Stockton said with a grin. “They’re tough, but the guys around me make my job easier with Taurean back there and Kam right next to me.”
Said Carter about Stockton: “I feel like he’s very aggressive and fast off the edge.”
Those traits showed up on Temple’s low-scoring, hard-hitting win at McKinney in the season opener. Making his first career start, Stockton delivered 10 tackles – second to the 11 stops of two-time 12-6A Defensive MVP York – as the Wildcats contained the Lions’ power rushing attack.
“I like D-end, being on the defensive side. I’m on the strong side of the field, so you’ve got to set the tempo there,” Stockton said. “And I’m right in front of Taurean, so if I do my job, he’s going to do his job even better. I’m following Eric Shorter’s lead, because he was a three-year starter at that position. When he left he gave me some words of encouragement and just told me to do me out there.
“There’s always room for improvement. That’s the biggest room in the house, so I’m trying to get better each and every week.”
Stockton registered nine tackles and half a sack against College Station, had five tackles and recovered a fumble in a home loss to state-ranked Arlington Martin. He’s posted 10 tackles and two quarterback pressures in three district games, helping the Wildcats extend their league winning streak to 18 games.
“A run-heavy team and especially when they’re zoning away from him, that leaves him unblocked, so he’s our ‘free hitter’ guy,” Knox said about Stockton. “He’ll spill, he’ll splash, he reads blocks well and you don’t have very many mess-ups with him.”
Both Carter and Stockton credited a large chunk of their effective play to the high-level instruction of Temple defensive line coach Robert Havens, whose groups have played major roles in the Wildcats’ recent run of success.
“Coach Havens is a great coach. I feel like he gives us a lot of tools to help us, for us being undersized,” Carter said. “He gives us a lot of tools at practice – technique, violence and stuff like that.”
Added Stockton about Havens: “When he puts in the gameplan, he’s very smart and very good at what he does. I feel like the way he teaches us to practice, it’s very useful.”
Knox fully concurred with Carter and Stockton’s assessment of Havens’ impact on the Wildcats’ defensive linemen.
“Coach Havens is one of the best defensive line coaches in the state, I’m going to tell you that. I believe that with my whole heart,” Knox said. “That dude’s a genius at defensive line play. He does a wonderful job with those guys. They’re very technically sound, and they do a lot – especially at the defensive end position. The end position is tough to play in our defense, and if you’re not very intelligent, it can confuse you a lot.”
Senior end Julian White (20 tackles, 1½ sacks) also picked up a large amount of playing time after Jackson shifted to outside linebacker to help compensate for the mid-August foot injury of senior Zion Moore, a first-team all-district outside linebacker last year who’s been sidelined all season. The emergence of senior linebacker Teryon Williams-Echols (41 tackles, two sacks) has allowed Jackson to play more at end in recent games.
Stewart noted the personality differences between Carter and Stockton.
“Kam’s a lot more goofy, and I mean that in a good way. I’m sure Stockton’s one of those guys that when he gets with his friends he’s probably a cut-up, but he’s more of a straight-laced kind of kid around the coaches,” Stewart said. “Kam’s just . . . you get what you get, and in a good way. He’s the joke teller. He and Jaylon Jackson are running buddies and they get on each other pretty good.”
Carter and Stockton are both pretty good at getting on opposing quarterbacks and running backs, a job responsibility they take seriously and are savoring every day in their one and only season as relied-upon starters for the tradition-rich Wildcats.
“The environment and the blue-front-white-back magic,” Stockton said of what he enjoys the most about playing for Temple. “It’s just the tradition. They take everything very serious here with the football program.”
Added Carter: “The standards are set very high, but it’s so we can perform at a high level on the football field."
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