CLEBURNE — The Cleburne Yellow Jackets posted a winning record and reached the playoffs for the first time in a decade under first-year coach Jeff Merket in 2012 and that success has created a football revival in the town.
There was some doubt on whether Merket would return this season , but there he was Tuesday keeping a watchful eye over Cleburne’s second practice of the day.
“Things are great. We’re in the process of getting a new weight room installed, our numbers are up, our staff size is up, so things are good,” Merket said. “We just had to take care of a few things that weren’t quite going the direction they needed to. We got all of that taken care of so, everything is very positive right now.”
40 varsity and another 45 junior varsity players zipped from station to station during the workout. Merket said they fielded only 30 varsity players and 18 on JV in 2012. The Yellow Jackets will also field approximately 60 freshman this season and the enthusiasm has trickled down.
“There is a difference this season,” Merket said. “I’ve got a son who plays PeeWee Football and they’re even having to add more teams because more kids are coming out. I think football is back on the rise in Cleburne.”
The Yellow Jackets were an offensive juggernaut last season which averaged 480 yards a game led by a 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior quarterback and District 8-4A MVP Quade Coward. Cleburne returns several playmaking receivers such as Kameron Pickett (42 catches, 725 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Al Baylor (23 grabs, 556 yards, 24.2 yards per catch and 4 scores), but has to figure out who will get them the ball.
“We’re doing good, we’re getting there,” Pickett said. “It’s a big difference from last year with all of the seniors leaving but the young kids are stepping up and we’re stil trying to figure out the quarterback situation.”
Daniel Richardson, Coward’s backup last season, and sophomore Brian Baca, are battling it out for the starting spot. Both are about 5-10, 170 pounds and described as very smart.
“They’re about equal in everything they do. They’re about the same size, same speed, the same throwing,” Merket said. “Both can play other positions, so it’s not like one’s going to be the starter and one’s going to sit. They’ll be on the field this season.”
The second practice Tuesday was all about defense and Cleburne is banking on the unit to carry the team early while the offense gets a little seasoning.
The Yellow Jackets return nine starters to their 3-4 base defense, including 6-0, 290-pound junior nose guard Tevin Boone, who has drawn interest from many of the BCS colleges in Texas. Cleburne returns its entire linebacker corps led by senior Bezuan Miller.
The secondary is led by safeties Kendall Nettick, an all-district performer last season, and 6-3, 185-pound speedster Reggie Robinson, who Merket described as “going to be a highly recruited athlete.”
“This is the last set of high school two-a-days I’ll have so it’s kind of a big thing,” Miller said. “I’m not really a fan of practice, but I love the game so it’s going to hurt when I leave.”
Tuesday’s practice was crisp, fast-paced and extremely loud to the point that coaches had a hard time communicating from 20 yards away.
At one point a Yellow Jacket player raised up out of his stance at the line of scrimmage and yelled, “lots of loud noises,” which cracked up the whole team, including the coaching staff.
“If you don’t play with enthusiasm then you’re just going through the motions,” Merket said. “ The coaches really try and build it up and we get excited trying to get them excited and to go play with some enthusiasm and intensity.”
Jarret Johnson, 817-390-7760
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