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Marble Falls football begins spring practices with 11 returning starters

Rising junior quarterback Andrew Stripling (center), who started for the Marble Falls High School football team in 2016, returns to the field with the rest of the Mustangs for spring practices Wednesday, April 26. Photo by Diana Cox

Rising junior quarterback Andrew Stripling (center), who started for the Marble Falls High School football team in 2016, returns to the field with the rest of the Mustangs for spring practices Wednesday, April 26. Photo by Diana Cox

STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO

MARBLE FALLS — The Marble Falls High School football team begins spring practices April 26 with one advantage it hasn’t had in about four years: a returning starter at quarterback.

Rising junior Andrew Stripling, who started nine games last season, has spent a lot of time in the weight and film rooms as well as participating in offseason drills since basketball season ended in February.

In 2016, he completed 132 passes for 1,730 yards, 10 touchdowns, and six interceptions for the Mustangs, who were 2-8 overall and 0-7 in District 26-5A.

“The young man has knowledge of the offense,” said head coach Matt Green, who’s completing his fourth season. “He’s looking like a different player. There’s confidence and repetition for him. He sees himself as the guy.”

Green said the 6-foot-5-inch Stripling has grown an inch and added more muscle. He now weighs 175 pounds, which is about 10 pounds heavier than he was in the fall.

The height increase is a huge advantage because Stripling is better able to see over the heads of his linemen.

The added arm muscle gives more power to Stripling’s passes. With the ball not floating as much, it will be tougher for defensive backs to grab interceptions.

“He has more zip. He has more distance,” Green said. “He can launch the ball. He’s putting it out there. His arm has improved.”

Stripling and the other quarterbacks will have a slew of receivers, including rising seniors Keegan Deering, who caught 23 passes for 370 yards and five touchdowns to lead the team in scoring last season, and Michael Wilcox, who had 35 receptions for 619 yards to lead the Mustangs in 2016 and one score. Brandon Sapp, Caleb Smith, Carson Pratt, and Bryce Murphy also are expected to compete for playing time.

The offensive line suffered through numerous injuries last fall. As a result, the athletes who logged minutes on the line, including rising junior Braiden Whiteside and rising seniors Alex Oberle, Jervon Collins, and Marco Resendiz, know what’s expected of them.

Green said coaches “have huge expectations” for the junior varsity offensive linemen.

“We think we’ll be really good,’” he said.

With Dalton Mayberry graduating, the Mustangs need a running back. His little brother, Dylan, and transfer Clay Merritt will line up in the backfield. Dylan Mayberry also will play quarterback and as a hybrid receiver when needed.

“They need to understand we return more kids on that side of the ball, but they need to play well,” Green said. “We need to gel in the spring.”

Defensively, Marble Falls is replacing a lot of talent and leadership, including former linebackers Heath Dooley and Jonathan Bryer.

Still, rising senior defensive linemen Daniel Sparks and Luis Banda are expected to anchor that position, while rising senior linebacker Chandler Walsh will handle the second level of the defense.

“Those are three guys who played significant varsity minutes,” Green said. “They’ve played a lot of games for me. That’s exciting.”

Look for rising senior defensive lineman Walker Kirkpatrick, who stands 6-4, to make his presence known, and don’t be surprised to see Whiteside split his time between the offensive and defensive lines.

Though Stripling and at least 11 other starters are returning, Green emphasized that no one has a guaranteed starting position in 2017 on either side of the ball.

“I’m looking for us to play hard and compete for starting jobs,” he said. “We return a lot of kids on the offensive side and several on the defensive side. I want to see the returners work. When it’s done, I want to see improvement.”

Spring practices begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, at Mustang Stadium on the high school campus, 2101 Mustang Drive.

jfierro@thepicayune.com