GLEN ROSE — Glen Rose lost a 3,400-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in District 4-4A MVP quarterback Ethan Hartman, and a 1,000-yard receiver in Dietrick James to graduation, but the cupboards aren’t bare for second-year Glen Rose football coach Cliff Watkins entering the 2017 season.
There is no question the duo left big shoes to fill, but Watkins likes what he sees coming back, and the Tigers could be equally as potent or even better than the team that finished 8-5 last year and went three rounds deep into the Class 4A playoffs.
“We feel like we have a good group of skilled guys,” Watkins said. “We feel like we can get the ball to a lot of different players. There’s not one guy who you can single out and say, ‘this is the guy we have to shut down.’ Everyone is going to be able to contribute.”
The key to the Tigers’ success, Watkins said, will be in the trenches on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Although honorable-mention all-state lineman Matthew Willis moved on, Watkins said there is a bevy of talent returning on both lines.
“Last year, going into the season, our offensive and defensive lines were big question marks. They were young guys and they hadn’t had a lot of varsity experience,” Watkins said. “Now, going into the season this year, we feel like our defensive and offensive lines are the strengths of our team, which is a big thing. We have to control the line of scrimmage.”
Anchoring the offensive line is senior center Gage Williams, who is moving over from left guard. Joining him along the line, Watkins said, are seniors Isaac Navarrete, Dylan Ibarra, Nicolas Lara; junior Hayden Shaw; and sophomore Ty Smith.
“I feel good about the progress those guys are making right now,” Watkins said. “Every year, there’s a new o-line that you have to mold and get tougher to become the group that gets us going offensively.”
Junior Cameron Griffin and senior Drayden James have been getting snaps at quarterback, but Griffin appears to be the frontrunner for the starting job.
“He has had a good fall camp so far,” Watkins said. “The good thing is Cameron is doing a good job and learning what’s going on, but we have a lot of skill players around him and they are doing a really good job too.”
All-district running back junior Westen Halcom, who had 1,050 all-purpose yards (772 rushing, 278 receiving) and a team-high 18 touchdowns (13 rushing, 5 receiving) returns, as do slot backs Tyler Torres (49 catches, 546 yards, 6 TDs) and Jake Andersen, who saw limited action in the backfield last year.
The Tigers have a stable full of wide receivers and tight ends in Dakota Paschall (14, 269, 2); Harrison Hawkins (11, 208); James (2, 38); and Jess Niedziela will be moving to the offensive side of the ball at tight end.
“We have four guys at wide receiver who are rotating and getting a lot of reps,” Watkins said.
Defensively, the Tigers are returning a lot of the defensive line, led by senior all-district performer Tanner Stroud.
“We have five defensive linemen back who started or played a big role last year,” Watkins said.
Along with Stroud, the Tigers return juniors Keegan Bunt, Niedziela, River Costello and Justin Huckabee.
Glen Rose is also returning an experienced secondary in Connor Hansen, James, Andersen, Torres and Paschall.
“Offensively, we gave the ball away too many times,” Watkins said. “Our defense did a great job of coming on the field and stopping that momentum and not letting them take the momentum when we turned it over. They found ways to get stops.”
Watkins said linebacker is a position that is wide open.
“We are really young at linebacker and we have to have some guys step up and take that role and take charge of the defense,” he said.
Bryan Pounds and Ricky Douglas will be two players looked upon to lead at that position.
“That’s the spot defensively that’s new and young, I guess you would say,” Watkins said. “These guys have to continue to grow and get better each and every week.”
Last year, the Tigers, who won the district title with a 5-0 mark, led the district in points scored (239) and fewest points allowed (95) in district games.
The Tigers played their final scrimmage of the year Thursday at Waco La Vega in preparation for the Sept. 1 season opener at Grandview. They will open their home slate Sept. 8 with Waco Connally.