Youth Is Served: Sophomores Zach Hall + Tavon Wesley Leading Tyler Lee’s Offensive Surge
TYLER — Friday nights weren’t very fun for Tyler Lee coach Darrell Piske last year, but Thursdays were a different story.
That’s when he got the chance to set eyes on a talented freshman class that gave Lee’s first-year coach hope for the future. And the future is now.
Ignited by the sophomore tandem of quarterback Zach Hall and running back Tavon Wesley, the Red Raiders are headed in the right direction after back-to-back 1-9 seasons.
Lee enters Friday night’s clash with crosstown rival John Tyler with a 2-0 record for the first time since 2005, and with a win could open a season with three consecutive victories for the first time since 2003.
“Everybody’s pretty excited and it’s understandable,” Piske said. “When you’ve been down as far as we’ve been down, you’ve got to get excited about it. That’s alright for the fans and the parents, but for us and the kids we have to stay focused on the task at hand. And that’s getting better every week, knowing we’re going to face some adversity and face some challenges.”
When Piske decided to switch to the spread offense for the 2013 season, a radical change in philosophy from the Lee of old, he knew finding a quarterback capable of running it was his first priority. He felt pretty good about what he saw on Thursday nights last fall.
Hall (5-10, 155) impressed Piske, but it wasn’t just his athletic ability that stood out.
“We were playing Longview,” he recalls. “We had the game won and just had to run out the clock, and (Hall) broke around the right side away from our bench so nobody could tell him what to do. He could’ve gone around the end and made some more yards and maybe even scored, but he knew all we needed was a first down. Once he got a first down, he just slid down. I knew as a freshman, to understand that part of the game, he was going to be pretty good.”
And through two games, Hall’s made good on Piske’s prophecy. In his varsity debut against Sulphur Springs, he passed 288 yards, ran for 124 and accounted for six touchdowns. Last week against Lufkin, he led the Lee’s 316-yard rushing effort with 150 yards and added 162 through the air.
“Any time you’ve got someone back there that’s a threat that can actually throw it, it puts (the defense) in a bind,” Piske said. “A lot of these teams, even the pro teams, are doing the wildcat stuff. And most of them stick a guy back there that can’t throw a lick, but when you’ve got a guy back there that can do both the defense is in a bind.”
While most people may point to Hall as the catalyst for Lee’s resurgence, he has other ideas.
“I feel real comfortable because of the playmakers I have around me,” he said. “Our offensive line, they’re doing a good job of keeping the defensive line away from me. So it’s real easy, reading my reads and listening to my coaches. They call the plays, and let my athletic abilities do what they do best.”
The read-option is all the rage right now, even in the NFL where the Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III used the offense to enjoy a breakout rookie season in 2012. It relies on the quarterback’s ability to read the defense to determine whether to hand it off to the running back or pull the ball back out before running himself or hitting a receiver upfield.
Wesley (6-1, 185), who ran for 125 yards and three touchdowns against Lufkin, presents opposing defenses with a catch-22.
“If you have an athletic quarterback it can really give defensive coordinators trouble,” Hall said. “The defensive player, whichever play he makes is wrong. So it’s like pick your poison.”
Added Piske: “Nearly every play we’ve got has a read off it. That’s a big deal, because last year nobody had to hold anybody for the quarterback. Anytime defensively you have to game plan … it just takes one more guy out of the equation. And really it takes two because Zach, you’re not going to hold one guy and stop him 90 percent of the time.”
Count Wesley among the Lee players thrilled with participating in the spread offense.
“It’s very exciting to spread the ball out to different receivers, different people get to carry the ball,” he said. “And with a quarterback like Zach it makes it more fun.”
Hall said the name of the game this week against John Tyler is speed. And more speed.
“On the D-line, their ends are very athletic and their D-line never quits,” Hall said of JT. “They follow the play so we’re going to have to hit it full speed every play because they go hard every play.”
Success has come fast to Hall and the Lee offense, creating a buzz around campus that’s been missing the last few years.
“It’s real exciting,” Hall said. “Everybody’s walking around with smiles on their face. We’re not getting over-excited because it’s just two games; we haven’t even started district yet. But it’s exciting to have the winning back.”
Piske’s mind is focused on the big picture.
“They’ve just got to keep working hard and realize that 2-0 is not our goal,” he said. “That’s exciting and all that stuff, but our goal is to get good enough to get into the playoffs and make a run in the playoffs.”