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By Dan Perrine
For the Record 

Mustangs open with Nederland


Last updated 8/23/2022 at 1:54pm

Jalen Gilmore has been a starter at linebacker for the Mustangs and will now handle all the kicking duties for West Orange-Stark

The 2022 season marks the beginning of a new era in West Orange-Stark football. Hiawatha Hickman will have his first game as the head coach of the Mustangs this Friday night.

Hickman led the Mustangs through their final preparations for the upcoming season with a scrimmage last week against the Vidor Pirates. This has been a longtime rivalry for the two teams which have been district opponents in their past histories.

West Orange-Stark played very well with the Mustang defense actually shutting out the normally potent running game of Vidor. "If you had told me that before that scrimmage I wouldn't have thought that would have happened. I think our kids rose to the occasion. We challenged them that we knew Vidor would be a physical, run right at you team that will hit you in the mouth, and I think our kids responded to the challenge defensively especially," Hickman praised.

The Mustangs were led on defense by Andrew Wilson at defensive tackle who played well causing a couple Pirate fumbles. Linebacker Jalen Gilmore played well inside making numerous tackles for West Orange-Stark.

In the secondary Jailen Brown and Jamaal Shaw came up and tackled the Vidor runners when called upon to do so. Hickman reiterated, "Defensively, I was really, really pleased with the effort that our kids gave. There's still a lot to fix. It was a good evaluation tool, but the effort was where it needs to be. It looked like a Mustang defense."

Offensively Hickman was pleased with the way the Mustangs ran and threw the football. The battle for the starting quarterback position is still very tight with the first game of the season just days away.

Junior Keyshawn Robinson who was the Mustang starter at the end of last season is facing a real challenge from sophomore Marcus Turner to be the quarterback. Both played well in the scrimmage with Vidor.

The offensive line played well and the receivers did a good job. Dakarion Judge caught a touchdown pass and ran the ball as well. "Overall I thought the offense played well again. We held some things back, and we hope to spring them this week on Nederland," Hickman evaluated.

The Nederland Bulldogs are the opening game opponent for West Orange-Stark. The Bulldogs run out of the Spread Offense much like the Mustangs. They try to spread opposing defenses out in order to run the football.

Nederland like West Orange-Stark has a duel between two Bulldogs to determine who will be the starting quarterback when the season starts against the Mustangs. The Bulldogs used both of the underclassmen in their two scrimmages.

There are some very good receivers to throw the ball to which ever of the Bulldogs becomes the starting quarterback. Reeve Barrow caught 20 passes last year for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Noah Kendrick made 21 receptions covering 258 yards resulting in two scores.

Coach Hickman had video from the Nederland scrimmages. The numbers were different from the roster provided to West Orange-Stark for this week's game program making it difficult to lock in on which Bulldogs were playing in many of the other positions.

The Bulldogs have an outstanding blocker in the offensive line with Jack Bieber who stands 6-4 and weighs 330 pounds. Hickman pointed out, "Like always they've got a big offensive line. They're going to run the ball and take some shots using play action passes. Coach Monte Barrow has always been a big screen guy and likes to run the screen and then take some deep shots with the pass."

Being in Class 5A the Bulldogs have much fewer two-way players than the Mustangs. This should be an advantage for Nederland over the course of the 48 minutes for the game. Hickman reminded that Barrow and his staff do a good job coaching the Bulldogs.

Defensively the Bulldogs base out of an even front kind of a 4-2-5 or a 4-3 look. Nederland plays zone in the secondary.

The Nederland front four on defense are good with two returners from last season. Landon Caywood at defensive end is 225 pounds and very quick registering five sacks this past year. Brady Corcoran is the other letterman in the front line. A top sophomore is Taveon Chatman in the defensive line.

Gage Driskell returns at linebacker. He had over a hundred tackles for the Bulldogs and is always around the football.

The secondary is a little bit different according to Hickman from what Nederland showed last year. Bulldogs that are back in the secondary include Travis Roman at cornerback and junior Nolan White who is a ball-hawk grabbing four interceptions last season.

Last year Nederland missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Hickman believes the Bulldogs are still a very tough team. "They'll present some challenges for us on defense. They're a 5A solid defense and it'll be a good challenge for us," Hickman said.

Winning is the tradition at West Orange-Stark, and the Mustangs like every team want to get that first win in the season opener. It has been said that to win a football game a team must be solid in all three phases of the game offense, defense, and kicking.

Special teams have improved in the weeks since the Mustangs have been preparing for the new season. Linebacker Jalen Gilmore has shown that he can kick extra points effectively. Hickman is not sure if Gilmore can boot any 40 to 50 yard field goals but believes Jalen can make the kick after touchdowns.

Gilmore will also be helping the Mustangs with their punting. Hickman advised they have changed the punting formation to more of a rugby style punting to try to pin opponents deep. Hickman elaborated, "He's been a good find for us at kicker, and I think he'll be handling the kickoffs as well for us."

West Orange-Stark with the winningest record in Texas high school football will look to improve on that mark again this season. Since the establishment of the high school in the late 1970s the Mustangs have won over eighty percent of their games.

The Mustangs have achieved that excellent record not by playing an easy non-district schedule every year, but instead by traditionally playing strong higher classification teams like the Nederland Bulldogs in the non-district. "We believe in the philosophy iron sharpens iron. You've got to play good people to be good. On the flip side of that sometimes it's not by choice, not everybody wants to play West Orange-Stark in the non-district so we take what we can get. Those 5A schools we feel like we can compete with them and get us ready for what we're going to see down the road in the playoffs," Hickman concluded.

The West Orange-Stark Mustangs open their season at home in Dan R. Hooks Stadium. The game with the Nederland Bulldogs begins at 7:30 on Friday night.


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