As much as he wanted to take 2015 as far as it could go, Colleyville Heritage head football coach Joe Willis admitted he was looking forward to his first off-season.
Off-season programs are where deep playoff runs are made. Willis should know what it takes. Willis guided Cedar Park to the Class 4A 2012 and Class 5A 2014 state championship games.
Now, Class 6A football is a little different from 5A. But the same principles hold true: strength, speed and skill – in that order – build a complete team.
The Panthers (5-6), who advanced to the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season, lost to Mansfield, 45-22, in the 6A Division II Region I bi-district round last Friday.
“In the winter, we really develop a foundation,” Willis said. “Our kids have lifted during the season. But they haven’t lifted scientifically. We want to identify where they are. Our staff will get a great sense through tests of strength level.
“We want to teach the correct form and set realistic goals. We have to set it to how they eat, live and sleep. You can’t have speed without strength.”
A heavy lifting program should start after the Thanksgiving break.
The Panthers will make major changes on the offensive and defensive lines because of graduation. They also are losing two of their better defenders in Boise St. commit Reid Harrison-Ducros and Jordan Porter.
But the good news is that the talented skill players are returning in quarterback Cam Roane (2,300 passing yards, 21 TD) and the wide receiver corps led by Ke’Von Ahmad (1,390 yards, 18 TD) and twins Germon and Gervon Thothian.
Roane was not at his best toward the end of the season. The left-hander dealt with joint issues in his shoulder. It should not require surgery. It’s all about rest, Willis said. But the offseason will also mean Willis can work day-to-day with Roane on all of the intricacies of his offense.
“At the end of the year, we exceeded where I thought we could be,” Willis said. “When I first got here, everybody had to quickly get to know each other. They did a great job.”
Everything the 2015 Mustangs did, they earned. They climbed earned their way into the playoffs with an 8-2 record.
As frustrating as Grapevine played against Denton in its Class 5A Division I Region I bi-district 12-11 loss, this team was still in position to win. A poor snap on the go-ahead 35-yard field goal attempt never gave the kick a chance. The Mustangs finished the season at 8-3.
“We made about 10 mistakes,” head coach Randy Jackson said. “If we make nine, we probably win. But I’ve been through so many of these close games and been on either side that it just happens.”
Regardless, the program has some momentum. The Mustangs unveiled a physical style. Against Denton’s 2,200 yard rusher Xavier Scott, Grapevine held him to 32 yards on 16 plays.
Key defensive players return including nose tackle Brian Andrews and linebacker Brennon Davis. Sophomore quarterback Alan Bowman (2,711, 27 TD) also returns with 11 more games of experience. Bowman is just going to have to work with a new set of receivers. Junior running back Zach Wolf has another season.
“We definitely made great strides this year,” Jackson said. “I think our arrow is pointing north. I’m already looking forward to 2016.”
With their enrollment numbers turned into the UIL, look for Grapevine and Colleyville Heritage to be reunited in a 5A district. The programs have not made preliminary plans to play each other in non-district for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.