Mustangs expect to bounce back this season
Last updated 8/8/2023 at 11:19am
Last year was not a typical season in football for West Orange-Stark. The Mustangs made the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round of the post season by the Bellville Brahmas.
West Orange-Stark was led by Hiawatha Hickman who was promoted to be the athletic director and the new head football coach with the retirement of longtime Mustang coach Cornel Thompson. The season had its ups and downs as WOS finished at 5-6 for a rare losing record by the winningest team in Texas high school football history.
Hickman addressed his disappointing first year as the head coach. "Last year we finished 5-6 which here at this program that's unacceptable. It was a new system with a lot of turnover in personnel. Our kids got better as the year went on, they worked hard, it just didn't turn out how we wanted it in the last game. I thought we played as hard as we possibly could play, and we could see the growth, and I think that kind of pushed us into the off season, and in the off season we've grown quite a bit. I think we are so far ahead now at this time than we were last year," Hickman evaluated.
The Mustang offense all comes back to the quarterback position. Fortunately, junior Marcus Turner the starting quarterback for eight to nine games last year is back this season to lead West Orange-Stark.
Turner can throw the football and run with it as well. He threw for over 1600 yards, rushed for more than 600 yards, and accounted for 21 touchdowns passing and running.
Hickman stated, "He's definitely our future. When I made the change to make a sophomore our starter we had the future in mind. I think we're going to reap the benefits of Marcus being our quarterback. He's had a great off season, and he had a great 7-on-7. I think that position is set now it's just putting the pieces around him."
Those pieces include a talented corps of wide receivers. The leading returning receiver is Andrew Cooper who topped the Mustangs in catches last year. Nic Crosson had the most receiving yards with 308 and caught six touchdowns passes. Taydren Perrault is a burner and a threat out wide who was a prime target for Turner during the 7-on-7 competition this summer in College Station. "Wide receiver is probably going to be one of our strongest position groups because they're all back," Hickman predicted.
The running back position will be filled by Jalen Gilmore a two year starter at linebacker who will see more time on offense this season. Hickman indicated, "It's Jalen's time to become the running back since he's been the backup the last few years. We're going to give him a shot at running back."
Another strong group of returning Mustangs is the offensive line with four of five starters back. Josh Miller played every game last season in the offensive line. Daylen Edwards was a starter and Elliott Adams is back as the starting center. Josh Sterling returns and had significant playing time in the offensive line for WOS.
"We feel really good about our group on offense. It means just taking the proper steps and doing what we need to do offensively," Hickman analyzed.
West Orange-Stark has hung its hat on its defensive prowess over the years. Many of the same names on offense will also contribute for the Mustangs on defense.
Outside linebacker and defensive end Jaterrious Brown started as a sophomore last year. Brown is expected to have a real big year as a junior.
Starting at noseguard will be Daylen Edwards in addition to being a regular in the offensive line. Edwards is a two-way starter that Coach Hickman thinks will have a great year up front for the Mustangs. Another two-way starter will be Josh Miller.
At one of the inside linebacker positions is Jacob Higginbotham. He had a great offseason and should be a leader on defense.
In the defensive secondary A'myrin Scott is a sophomore who was first team all-district as a freshman at strong safety. Chris Jones is a returner at cornerback and has received several college offers to play when he graduates. Hickman indicated Jones may be moved inside to free safety. "He's gotten big enough to be a safety," Hickman added.
The Mustangs have quite a few guys coming back on defense. Hickman assessed, "We feel like that's what we do here, play defense, and we've got to get back to doing what we were doing. Last year was just kind of a transition as far as personnel and schematics, but I think we're going to get back to the old Mustang defense that we've done in the past."
There are some new faces on defense including William Pitre at the other inside linebacker. Pitre at 6-1, 190 pounds looks the part as a Mustang inside linebacker. "William is going to be a big time guy. He's one player who's going to jump out to people as someone new. He'll be a next level guy. Pitre had a really good spring, played some as a sophomore last year, and he's probably going to be our 'bell cow' on defense," Hickman praised.
Freshman Khelvy Jefferson will have an opportunity to play running back for WOS. Jefferson was part of the eighth grade team that went undefeated the last two years. Hickman advised, "Not too many freshman play here, but Khelvy may have the opportunity to do that."
Not really a newcomer to the varsity is Tahj Amerson who could stand out to Mustang fans as he will see more playing time this season. Amerson had a good game in the playoffs last year against Bellville and will get some carries at running back as well as more playing time at safety on defense. He plays football, basketball, baseball, and runs track and does well at all of those sports according to Hickman.
Denim Orebo is a junior standing 6-4 and weighing 265 pounds who is big and can run. Orebo was moved up last year the week of the playoff game, but broke his leg during a practice. Denim will start at right tackle and makes the Mustangs better.
The West Orange-Stark coaches will spend the next three weeks trying to build some depth for the Mustangs at several positions. Areas of attention will be in the defensive line and at wide receiver despite the quality of athletes already named to be starters there.
"Other than the starters at wide receiver we're kind of thin. We're hoping some young guys will come through. On the offensive line we're trying to find another piece, and hopefully Orebo will be the last piece of the puzzle with the other four starters," Hickman pointed out.
Some depth is needed at linebacker. Hickman commented, "We've got Higginbotham, we've got Pitre, Jalen Gilmore still can play some linebacker. We're hoping we can get one or two more guys to give us some depth."
Finding a place kicker is another endeavor for the WOS coaches. Gilmore did a good job last season kicking extra points so it is his job unless somebody better comes along. Ja'mikeal Davis was the junior varsity punter last year and appears to have the varsity punter's job locked up for this season.
A fourth place finish in district and an overall losing record for the year is not acceptable at West Orange-Stark. Like every year the Mustangs will face a difficult non-district schedule before playing in arguably the toughest district in Division II of Class 4A throughout the state of Texas, so it will not be easy to improve on last season but obviously that is the goal.
Coach Hickman and the Mustangs look at every year as coming down to three seasons. First are the non-district games, then comes the district schedule, and concludes with a trip to the post season.
The Mustangs' opponents this season are the same as last year, but with a slight difference. Hickman explained, "One of the things that we like this year is we've got what we feel are all the big games at home. We've got Silsbee, Jasper, and Hamshire-Fannett all here. Last year with a young team we had all the big games on the road. In the games we had at home we played really well."
Hickman is optimistic as the new season begins. "We're going to try to navigate the non-district, and then get into district which has four teams highly ranked in the state. We still feel at West Orange-Stark it's all about us. We felt like we let everybody borrow the district for a year. We're going to coach them up, we're going to play hard, and we're going to try to get things back to the way they need to be here," Hickman concluded.