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ET Football: Longview coach: It gets real Friday night

By Hayden Henry
Aug. 20, 2016 at 8:48 p.m.

Longview's Gaylen Wiley hands the ball off to Trajan Bush Monday, August 8, 2016 during the first day of practice. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

If you're in need of getting battle-tested, Longview head coach John King simply says there's no better place to do so than Abe Martin Stadium.

That's what lies ahead in the immediate future for King and the Lobos, who capped the preseason Friday night with their lone preseason scrimmage at home against Pine Tree.

Now, the battle begins as the Lobos shift their focus to a season-opening date with Lufkin — the 79th meeting overall and 13th since 2007 between the two rivals.

"We got after each other pretty good this offseason and the effort, attendance and desire to get better, all of those things are there," King said. "Now, it's time to move forward.

"Now, it gets real."

Friday's tuneup with the Pirates was just that for the Lobos, who will break in several varsity players on both sides of the ball. Sophomores and juniors will be featured in several key spots seeing their first varsity action. In total, through the controlled portion and live-action periods, the Lobo first-team offense saw 23 snaps on Friday.

In terms of youth, King said it was perhaps the youngest overall Lobo squad since 2008.

"The next month is going to be crucial for us and I think we can be much better football team after that stretch than we are right now," said King of Friday's opener with Lufkin, followed by a return trip to Maverick Stadium and a home opener with Dallas South Oak Cliff to round out the non-district slate. "We've got three tough non-district games and then the (District 11-6A) opener and we've got to get ready for that first one.

"It'll be one week at a time but there's no better place to get battle tested than Lufkin, Texas, at Abe Martin Stadium."

Here's a look at the Lobos entering the 2016 season:

OFFENSE

Two things are certain year-in and year-out with the Lobos: the offensive line and the stable of running backs.

Up front, Kendall Starling returns as a three-year starter and is joined by Cameron Quinney, Lavondrick George, Billy Taylor and, in the first appearance of the Lobo youth, sophomore Gavin Roberts.

"I will say this — the biggest joy I've gotten out of watching those guys up front is that they're not complacent," King said. "They're not thinking they're better than they are. They're working hard and grinding every day.

"There's some guys in the two spot — guys like senior Ben Nguyen — who are so unselfish and grinding away each day. We're focused on developing depth there and we have. The way they've grinded and their work ethic have enabled us to bring along several areas of our football team."

Stable may be an understatement at running back. Kendrevian White and D'Crayvan Polk have brought the one-two punch in terms of power and speed. Senior fullback Trajan Bush has turned in a strong fall practice slate alongside sophomore Jessie Anderson. In the scrimmage, the Lobos used at least six different ball carriers.

"We do have some depth there and they're all kind of different in what they do," King said. "With White and Polk, that's two different styles of play but both can run our offense in whatever scheme we have.

"Bush has developed into a good football player. We ask a lot out of our fullbacks in terms of blocking. He deserves more credit than he gets in terms of foot speed and catching the ball out of the backfield."

Speaking of catches, the Lobos' top returning receiving stat from a year ago: One catch for 15 yards, credited to now-junior Eric Timberlake, who possesses the ability to knock the top off of defense, as displayed in Longview's first snap from scrimmage on Friday night — a 70-yard over-the-middle score from quarterback Gaylon Wiley.

A numbers-heavy area, keep an eye our for a number of contributors in Tavian Shaw, Astin Henry, junior Kendle Johnson and rising sophomore Kamden Perry.

If there's an X-factor player on the offense, that title belongs to senior speedster Ke'Undre Wilson, who saw time both ways throughout the final week of preseason practice.

Wiley has displayed total command of the Lobos' offense and has shown his ability to run the football as well.

You couldn't talk the Lobo offense without the mention of the tight end position, an area where the Lobos welcome back junior Jaylin Brown. Fellow junior Ke'Andre Mauldin and sophomore Daquavion Randall are in the mix there as well to bookend the Lobos' offensive line.

Junior kicker Chris Kessler connected for a 36-yard field goal against Pine Tree and is joined by sophomore JK Martin at punter/kicker.

DEFENSE

With a few position changes, the Lobos return two starters on defense in linebackers Kobe Davis and Ja'Quavion Faggans. In total, King said eight or nine players got their first taste of varsity action on Friday night on the defensive side of the ball.

Going back to the offensive line, the 2016 Lobo defensive front is all brand-new and saw 10-12 players rotate in during the scrimmage.

"That's another area benefiting from the offensive line," King said. "Those guys have been pushed and challenged every day. We're young there and saw some good things effort-wise. I'd rather coach alignment than effort."

Junior D'Marjai Dearion was strong throughout the fall and fellow 2018 classmate Jadarrion Blakemore turned in a solid scrimmage. They join the big man in junior Jeffery Jones (5-11, 330) as well as juniors Josh Moon, Montavian Reed and Jason Bush.

At linebacker, King noted the play of senior Steven Skinner.

Switching to the 3-4 defense in the spring has enabled the Lobos to use its personnel to match its abilities.

Joining senior standout Traveion Webster at safety is sophomore Cameron Starling as well as a host of players in Austin Lawson, Jalen Carr and Corterrion Garrett, who had an interception against the Pirates.

Junior Roshodrick Harmon has transitioned to cornerback, where he'll be joined by Wilson and senior Daajman Taylor.

Up top, junior Kyle Andrews returns and is joined by sophomore Jephiniah Lister, who transitions from the offense, where he played as a subvarsity player.

NOTES

King said between Longview, Pine Tree, Gladewater and Whitehouse, $3,000 from Friday's scrimmage proceeds will be donated to the Texas High School Coaches Associations' 'Our Day to Shine' benevolence funds ... Longview's Oct. 21 home game against John Tyler was announced as the Dave Campbell's Texas Football/Fox Sports Southwest Game of the Week and will be a part of the Great American Rivalry Series ... Kickoff against the Panthers is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin.

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