Van Sorts Out Surprising Amount Of New Talent During First Week
VAN -- It didn't matter which of the three quarterbacks in contention threw the fade route during Thursday evening's two-a-days practice at Van Memorial Stadium.
Senior wideout Bradley Fitzgerald came down with it.
More than that, paired with junior Isaiah Allred on the other side of the field, he adds size on the outside the Vandals just didn't have last year.
The feelings established on a freezing November night at Rockwall's Wilkerson-Sanders Stadium are beginning to thaw during these 100-degree days.
"We have a lot of turnover this year," head coach Jared Moffatt said. "A great senior class graduated with some really good football players. We have a group of guys that, now, it's their turn. They have an opportunity to step up, make a name for themselves and put their own stamp on Vandal football. We have a lot of competition for a lot of spots. That's really where we are right now."
Van's final game of the 2014 season was a disaster.
Six days after capping a perfect regular season, its offense committed six turnovers and the team was stunned by Paris in the opening round of the Class 4A Division I playoffs. But that wasn't the worst part.
The loss killed a great turnaround story from the last time Moffatt had an offseason like this one.
His young 2013 team scraped into the playoffs with a 3-7 record before being dismantled by Kilgore. They were a realistic dark horse to win the state championship the following year.
Paris sent a Division I defensive end, a college-caliber running back, a fearless 150-pound linebacker that led East Texas in tackles, a two-year starting quarterback, three-fourths of the receiving corps and four-fifths of the offensive line packing.
What's left is projected locally to be good enough to earn Van a second-place finish in District 8-4A Division I. Not good enough to keep Athens from winning the league championship.
You can see for yourself today when Van puts the pads on and scrimmages at 7 p.m.
There are still strengths.
Senior outside linebacker Rielly Krumvieda and junior safety Cooper Bledsoe return to headline the defensive skill player spots. Seniors Aaron Chitwood and Tristan Ford do that on the defensive line.
"There's a lot of shoes to fill, but I have high expectations for the newcomers," Krumvieda said. "We'll find out a lot about ourselves in the scrimmage."
Clay Gandy is back at his left tackle spot and three-year starter Kendrick Jones is the lone major receiver from last year's team.
Oh yeah, Nebraska running back commitment Aphonso Thomas also is a part of the team as a senior. He rushed for more than 900 yards while splitting touches with Matt Savis, now a Southeastern Oklahoma State freshman, and the team's outstanding group of receivers last year.
"I think we're all excited to get another chance," Thomas said. "I think we could have done so much better in the playoffs last year. I want to go all the way if we can. I'm excited to get a chance to be the premiere back, but I really just want to win games this season."
Van's offense will look a little different this season.
Thomas will obviously shoulder more of a load on his own. All three quarterbacks pushing for the starting job also are more mobile than the pro-styled Peter Maddox from the past two teams and could add a new dynamic.
Senior Brett Doring, and sophomores Connor Houston and Garrett Moseley are the guys. The two that aren't selected are expected to contribute at other positions right away.
"Our offense gets tweaked every year," Moffatt said. "So much of our base level offense remains the same, but at this level of high school football you have to adjust to your personnel. Last year, we had two great running backs and Aphonso will have to carry more. We also have some running quarterbacks, which we haven't had in the past.
"I think we have some receivers. Of course, Kendrick Jones has done a great job in the slot for us. He's back and he's proven. We've got two 6-foot-3 receivers who are unproven, but we like their potential."
Choked at receiver last season, Fitzgerald starred on the junior varsity team last year. Same with Allred, who has two years to make an impact.
That was the same problem for the offensive line. They put up with the the 'if it's not broke, don't fix it' philosophy against four experienced linemen entering 2014.
Van fans don't have to flip on the headlights and drive single file to Athens' place for the opening night of district play Oct. 9 just yet. There's still a lot of time to find the right answers.
"All we're really looking for is great effort," Moffatt said. "Five days in, they're going to make some mistakes and do some wrong things. We're just looking for tremendous effort. With this year's group, which is so different than last year's group and having so many starting positions open, we'll spend a lot of time evaluating. We're excited about the chance to really start evaluating."