John Tyler Opens Spring Ball With Solid Lineup + College Coaches Are Watching
TYLER -- The first day of John Tyler's spring football practice sessions drew a nice crowd.
Music played during warm ups drew in students who were waiting for their parents to pick them up, some curious former players who are about to graduate and even a few die-hards from the community at large. A bugle call that alerted passersby that football is making a brief comeback in May.
There's a lot for Lions fans to be excited about. The 2014 features several players with college football potential and even more athletes that will make up a competitive varsity squad, so there's promise that John Tyler's tradition-rich program will reach its above-average standards.
"I love it," quarterback Geovari McCollister said. "Football is a big part of my life. We exited the playoffs early last year and the John Tyler program isn't used to that. Just to get back in the groove and pick things back up felt really good."
It was a hot day, at least by spring standards, and it was the first day since November that drawings on the whiteboard were executed on the field.
Head coach Ricklan Holmes and his staff had their hands full correcting early spring jitters. Athletes across the state in the larger classifications are playing tight, thinking one great play or a giant gaffe will make or break their personal 2014 season.
As practice wore on, however, John Tyler showed glimmers of what it should be able to do this fall.
The offensive and defensive lines got together for a long trench war in skeleton drills with the running backs while the skill players worked on seven-on-seven drills. All sides had their moments.
"It's a fresh start," Holmes said. "That's what every offseason and every spring is about. A fresh start. Getting ready for a whole new season. Reloading. Making sure we've got guys in place where they need to be whether it's offense, defense or special teams. We're finding guys that we know we can depend on during the season. Everybody looks good with shorts on during the offseason. Now we've got pads on, there's a little heat outside, bumping and tackling. We're going to find the guys that we can go win with on Friday."
The staff feels very optimistic with McCollister returning for his senior season. He passed for 2,614 yards and 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions as a junior and has multiple returning lettermen catch the ball.
Offensive line is another bright spot with some seasoned veterans returning.
"They're a little bit bigger and a lot stronger," Holmes said. "A little bit more experienced."
The defense will be anchored by guys like rising senior cornerback Ike Warren, linebacker Jaylon Reese and defensive end Jassavia Reese. They're all players that have college football on their mind.
"Our defense is really going to have to buckle down on the running," Warren said. "Last year, we didn't have a very good run defense. Our defense will be based on defending the run. We can lock down in the secondary, so we're really focussing in on running through the spring."
College is stressed at John Tyler.
A bulletin board outside of the Lions' locker room is covered in mailers from regional colleges advertising their summer camps and Holmes sends e-mails to college coaches updating them on the progress of his players.
Hosting college coaches is celebrated.
Day 1 of John Tyler's spring practice sessions brought out a coach from Northwestern State and a coach from UTSA to supplement 30 to 35 unique programs that have passed through the school's halls since the beginning of the college spring evaluation period.
"Seeing all those guys out here, knowing they've been to other schools but they've taken the time to come to John Tyler and check out my kids on their first day, I'm pretty pumped about that," Holmes said.
There are quite a few reasons to visit this tradition-rich program these days, but the only senior that has a Division I offer is Bendy. It came from North Texas on Saturday. Rising junior offensive lineman Braylon Jones is the only other Lion with an offer, Navy.
"Oh man, it was exciting," Holmes said of North Texas' interest in Bendy. "Any time a kid in the '15 class or the class that's fixing to graduate gets their first offer, it shows that people notice that we've got some good kids here. That we're doing some good things with the program. It's a reason why we're winning. Now they just need to find the guys to offer, like Bendy and Braylon, to help them win at the next level.
"I've always said my kids are proven. There's a reason we're going deep in the playoff almost every year. It's not because we're great coaches, it's because we've got some pretty good kids. The competition that we go against is no shabby experience. I can't wait until the rest of them start getting some offers."
Bendy shined in John Tyler's first practice of May. He showed he can get off the line of scrimmage when the corners are pressing, he runs good routes and he can adjust at the last second for the catch.
On the other end of the pass, McCollister will spend the spring working on staying in the pocket. He has good speed, but developed a habit of leaving the pocket too early last season.
That being said, he demonstrated everything you want to see in a quarterback in Wednesday's drills. Velocity, touch, the ability to read through his progressions and balls delivered into tight windows.
"Last year, he was a puppy," Holmes said. "He got thrown out there in the fire his first varsity year. He had to learn a lot. What he's learned from the 11 games he played in last year and the offseason was he has to be a lot more patient and has got to trust his arm. He has great receivers to throw it to. He's got to make sure he can get it to them. That experience will make him better along with some of the guys that we've got as backup quarterbacks pushing him."
Difficult windows were brought to McCollister by Warren at cornerback.
Warren often times jammed receivers right at the line of scrimmage to the degree the offensive players could not detatch themselves. He ruined routes when he was asked to defend in man-to-man coverage. He also didn't give up much beyond the catch in zone coverage.
"Ike is that lockdown corner that we've been looking for," Holmes said. "He did it last year for us."
The head coach sees receivers, safeties, linebackers and linebackers as other bright spots with possible recruiting talent.
"I can't wait for the rest of them to start getting offers," Holmes said. "To me, that alleviates pressure off of me and pressure off my kids by letting them know they're at least got a home to go to after the season. You can really take that off your brain and think, 'I've got somewhere to go so now this is what I have to do to make sure I'm ready when I get there.'"