STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — The 2018 football season starts at 7 a.m. Thursday, April 26, for the Marble Falls High School Mustangs.
Marble Falls will have the first of 15 practices plus the spring game, which is slated for a 3:20 p.m. start Monday, May 21, at Mustang Stadium, 2101 Mustang Drive.
Head coach Mike Birdwell said 100 rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors will put on full pads to work on fundamentals, learn new positions, and fine-tune their skills.
“We want to compete and get after it,” he said. “We want to work the fundamentals of the positions to help them be the best they can be. We’re adding new wrinkles that will allow us to get downhill and run the ball more effectively.”
The most important goal is that players are cross-trained to learn at least two positions.
The other important thing is players understand they are competing for starting positions right now, the coach said. About the only spot that is safe is quarterback with rising senior Andrew Stripling filling that role.
The two groups that coaches will be watching closely are at wide receiver and defensive back.
Birdwell noted that while the Mustangs have players who have logged significant minutes at receiver, coaches want to see consistency in building rapport with Stripling, and understanding they must come through on third down, as well as catching the ball in big plays.
Rising senior Kyle Hanshaw and rising junior Brenden Sapp played in the receiver position last season. And rising senior Brock Linder will switch back to receiver after playing halfback last season. “Two or three kids will have to grow up and develop,” the coach said. “We’re looking for big things from all of those cats.”
Rising senior defensive back Zachary Hibbs is the only returning veteran for that position.
Coaches are also eager to see the other positions, too.
They believe running back, fullback, and halfback have plenty of depth with returners Dillon Mayberry, Jayden Bridges, and Cooper Wilson.
But that position, as far as depth, pales in comparison to offensive line, Birdwell said.
The projected starting offensive line is Genaro Arreguin at left tackle, Braiden Whiteside at left guard, Chance Haley at center, Frankie Gonzalez at right guard, and Mauro Palacio at right tackle.
“Offensive line is where we are the deepest,” Birdwell said. “We have five kids who played or started games last year and one or two others who played plenty in the past.”
Not to be outdone, the defensive line is expected to be great, according to Birdwell, with rising juniors Sam May and Josh Whitecotton and rising senior Ernesto Castenada, who all started last season.
In the linebacker slots, rising senior Zachary Fearn is expected to anchor the middle linebacker spot, while rising seniors Steve Rodriguez, Reece Vanhoose, and Ernesto Martinez are all expected to play their roles.
With spring football, teams get the chance to fit in 18 practices now versus six in August and with no acclimation period. In the last summer practices, players go through a full week of drills before they can don full pads. In the spring, they jump right in with full pads. The University Interscholastic League only allows Class 5A and Class 6A football programs to hold spring practices.
But by participating in spring football, the Mustangs won’t start summer training camp until the middle of August, which is the trade-off the UIL requires.
Assistant coach Cyril Lemon, who spent last season as the defensive line coach, will switch to offensive line in 2018. The switch makes sense as the 2011 Marble Falls High School graduate started at left tackle for three seasons while a Mustang. Then, at the University of North Texas, he led the country with 49 consecutive starts as the right guard for the Mean Green. Lemon also brings two years of NFL playing experience to the table as well.
“This move is not only to utilize his experience in that position, but he’s also one of the best young coaches I’ve ever been around,” Birdwell said. “He knows the position, the ins and outs.
Lemon and coach Jack Brown will coach the offensive line, while Jason Hensley will coach the defensive line.
As for the Marble Falls Middle School program, Birdwell said he has especially been pleased with the development of the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders, who are getting stronger, faster, and mentally tougher thanks to the offseason training.
“We have a lot of kids who want to get better,” he said.