STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — The Marble Falls High School football team is about to complete its second week of spring football, and head coach Mike Birdwell said he is happy with how the players are competing.
The retention of the returners is what has pleased the coaching staff the most because players are self-correcting and helping their teammates get lined up right.
“One- and two-year returners have put some good practices together,” Birdwell said.
Being able to quickly execute what coaches want to see on every play means less teaching and more plays, a huge benefit for muscle memory, Birdwell said.
But, he quickly added, coaches have stopped practices to show players what they’ve done incorrectly and explain the Mustang way of doing things.
“It takes time to teach, and quite a few kids are working both sides of the ball,” Birdwell said. “It’s nice to build on the offense. We want our kids to go out on a high level. Our kids are playing really hard.”
Two positions for which coaches want to see expanded competition are receiver and the secondary. Birdwell said players are fighting for starting jobs. Currently, three starting receiving positions and at least three starting defensive back positions are open. Rising junior receiver Brenden Sapp and rising senior receiver Kyle Hanshaw are enjoying terrific practices, the coach said.
“They’re starting to put together bodies of work,” he said. “These kids are progressing nicely. They’re doing things to put them in a position to play lots of snaps. Brenden is getting lots of snaps on both sides of the ball. We need him to be a playmaker.”
Rising junior defensive backs Kaire Hughes and Ben Anderson are standing out in the secondary, Birdwell said.
Much of the correction is in coverages, he said, and the best way to make those adjustments is through repetition.
Rising junior Hayden Wells is turning heads at running back and linebacker, coaches said.
Birdwell noted Wells can run the ball well and catch it consistently and is doing well in pass protection.
“That’s the triple threat,” the coach said.
Rising junior Josh Whitecotton is lining up on the offensive and defensive lines, and coaches believe this Mustang can do much more than block. Whitecotton’s versatility will only allow them to expand on the playbook.
“He’s playing really hard,” Birdwell said. “He’s a force to be reckoned with.”
Rising junior lineman Sam May is picking up right where he left off at the end of the 2017 season, the coach said. May was too fast and too strong for many offensive linemen. Because he could hold his blocks and shed offensive blockers, that allowed his teammates to create havoc in the opponents’ backfields.
Rising senior Zachary Fearn is excelling in the defensive calls and helping his teammates get lined up correctly. Don’t be surprised to see him spend some time with the offense in 2018.
“He helps the other young cats,” Birdwell said. “As for rising sophomores, there are some of those cats who are putting themselves in a position to play with the big boys next year.”
Rising senior quarterback Andrew Stripling continues to impress, Birdwell said. His fundamentals have improved. He continues to quickly process information and make the proper decisions with the ball. But most important, the coach said, is Stripling forces his teammates to raise their play.
“When he gets on the field, he makes everybody around him better,” he said. “He’s definitely doing that through our practices.”
Birdwell said he believes fans will be excited about the 2018 team because of the solid work that’s happening right now.
“It’s really fun to watch those kids,” Birdwell said with a smile. “They are fighting and clawing. They want to play, and competition breeds competition. It’s a fight for survival. They have to put their best foot forward. We’ll continue to get better. I’m happy with our progress.”
The spring football game is 3:20 p.m. Monday, May 21, at Mustang Stadium, 2101 Mustang Drive.
The Mustangs open the 2018 season at Fischer Canyon Lake, 8555 RR 32, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31.