When the Mansfield football team walked off the AT&T Stadium turf following a crushing 38-31 loss to Southlake Carroll in the bi-district round of the playoffs last November, it’s unlikely many of the players were thinking about spring football.
But when the Tigers walked onto the field for the first day of spring drills, you can bet some were thinking about that night when one got away.
“I think it did motivate our kids a little bit, in the sense that they felt like they should have won,” Coach Jeff Hulme said. “More than anything else, it’s two or three years now that we’ve been beaten in the first round of the playoffs, and obviously we want to go beyond that.”
The long road to next year’s playoffs has started, with the highlight of the offseason – the spring game – scheduled for Tuesday, May 26. Like most teams three months away from kicking off a new season, Mansfield feels good about where it stands.
“We had a great offseason,” Hulme said. “We’ve had very good spring ball. Very successful.”
The primary concern entering the spring was replacing several starters on the defensive side of the ball. A number of lettermen do return, so a foundation was already there.
“I feel like we’ve got a good nucleus of kids that are stepping up,” Hulme said. “They might be new to starting, but they’re not new to Friday night.”
With the emphasis on that side, Hulme noted that the defensive line was one of the bright spots of spring drills.
“A lot of young men in that group really jumped out,” he commented.
Overall, what the unit lacks in experience, it has an advantage in speed.
“I think we’ll have a very fast defense; probably one of the fastest as a whole since I’ve been here,” Hulme added. “I think we’ve got some good size up front. So I’m pretty pleased with where we are on defense.”
Offensively, the Tigers are more seasoned, with just a pair of losses: the center and quarterback. Of course, many eyes will be on the quarterback battle, which is currently a three-man race that includes Dameron Smith, a returning senior letterman, sophomore Corbin Frederick and junior Kyle Montana.
Hulme noted that if anyone has the edge right now it’s Smith, who as a senior has a maturity edge and a better grasp of the offense. The coach noted that if Frederick isn’t under center he’ll likely be roaming the defensive secondary as a safety. Montana, Hulme said, had an impressive offseason and spring and has played himself into contention for the significant role.
Whoever takes the snaps will have the advantage of an experienced line protecting him. That group in the trenches will also open holes for tailback Kennedy Brooks, who emerged last year as a sophomore, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns – averaging a notable 7.5 yards per carry.
Because the Tigers feature a run-oriented offense, people tend to overlook their talent on the outside. But Hulme warns teams should do that at their own peril, as the receiving corps has shown explosive potential this spring.
“They give us a vertical passing threat,” he said. “Not a lot of people respect our passing game because we run the ball so well. I think people will see this year we’ve got some good receivers and we’re going to throw the ball.”
Saiid Adebo was the leader of that group last season, and returns after a sophomore campaign in which he hauled in 25 receptions for 567 yards and six scores. He averaged over 22 yards every time he touched the ball.
One more thing to know about the Tigers: Just because you’re on offense one day doesn’t mean you won’t be on defense the next. Mansfield holds firm to its philosophy of giving players two positions, which is also a big part of the spring learning process.
“Every player and coach from freshman on up has an offensive and defensive position,” Hulme explained. “We think that gives us an advantage over teams that don’t do that. You can’t blame one side or the other, because we’re all in this together. It is the ultimate team atmosphere.”