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ET Football: Defense sets tone for Lobos during spring

By Hayden Henry
May 20, 2017 at 10:48 p.m.

Lobos Jessie Anderson looks for running room during the Green and White Game on Tuesday at Lobo Stadium.

Longview picked two words to carry through the offseason and spring practice.

Gather, which is what 177 Lobo football players did, was the first. Grind is the second part of that mantra.

"I really thought we got great effort out of our kids the entire spring, which started in the offseason," Longview head coach John King said. "It really picked up as we went along, especially over the last couple of weeks heading into the spring game.

"We grinded on them pretty good, just a very physical spring. We had a lot to do and a lot to get in."

DEFENSE

Bucking a trend for the Lobos over the past few seasons, Longview took to the practice field with expecting a strong defensive showing, an area of the team that brought back a bulk of the 40 returning letterman from a year ago.

"Defensively, we're way ahead of where the offense is and expectedly so with the number of returners we had from last year's defense," King said. "We knew that coming in and we knew that the defense, particularly the defensive line, was going to be at the center of what we needed to get done this spring."

It was a year ago when the script was flipped as a veteran offensive line was tasked with setting the stage for both a young defensive line and the team as a whole. That task this year, King said, was accomplished.

"A lot of those returners are up front," King said. "We're going to have some depth and we'll be able to rotate some guys in and keep them fresher and healthier throughout the fall."

King noted the speed and physicality of the Lobos' defensive front, led by seniors Montavian Reed, JC Blakemore, D'Marjai Dearion and two-way standout KeAndre Mauldin, among others in an area that saw heavy rotation throughout the spring.

"The defensive line is a lot more physical," King said. "That group gelled pretty well. We're keeping them fresh and that's what we've got to do in the fall in all of these tempo offenses. That's why we were able to be so disruptive this spring.

"Montavian Reed has really grown and become a handful. JC Blakemore did what we thought he could do. Mauldin had a pretty dominate spring and we had several guys step up and get into the mix."

The rest of the defense benefited as well, particularly at linebacker.

"It's a lot easier to play behind a good defensive line and we did that at linebacker," King said. "They all did a good job of fitting the run and covering in the passing game. Kevion Bush figured some things out. Tyler Wilder is a good, steady football player. He was out with an injury but was out there for the Green-White Game, that's just the type of player he is."

The junior duo of Cameron Starling and Ja'Vonte Writt also saw considerable time with the first-team defense.

At safety, King heaped praise on Jephaniah Lister, who turned in a breakout sophomore season, as well as Jalen Carr, who was strong throughout the spring.

"Intelligent football players," King said. "It starts with those two guys. They can communicate and get everyone on the same page. Coach (Randy) Huffstickler gave them a little more freedom this spring and they did a good job getting them done."

At cornerback, King said he went back to watch three-year starter Roshodrick Harmon's game film from a year ago. Harmon finished with three passes broken up and no interceptions.

"He was just so dominate that no one threw the ball his way," King said. "And that was the case this spring as well."

The second cornerback spot saw heavy rotation with Javotrick Dotrey and Desmond Armstrong seeing time.

"Up for grabs at the other spot," King said. "Dotrey is in the mix and Armstrong is a competitor. He's 5-3 and will climb your tail."

OFFENSE

Two big questions will carry into the summer and August for Longview: Quarterback and offensive line.

Junior Gavin Roberts is the lone returning starter on the offensive line from a year ago.

Marcus Williams and Marcus Harry turned in strong springs at the tackle spots. What hurt is offensive line this spring was a lack of continuity due to a few injuries throughout.

"From an offensive standpoint, I still think our biggest concern is the offensive line," King said. "We've got to find the best five and get them in the right places.

"I think we've got a good evaluation of those guys from each day of film study. We've made progress but it's just a matter of getting some consistency there and getting everyone on the same page. It takes a little longer for the offensive unit to do that and nowhere is more important than the offensive line."

King said Donovan Brooks turned in a great spring up front. Also in the mix are Tanner Hill, junior Kaylon Allen, Brady Miller, Parker Cox as well as Josh Moon and Danny Slayton Jr., who moved from the defensive side of the ball.

"That gives us some depth and competition," King said. "August will be big there."

Returner Jaylin Brown and Daquavian Randall book-ended the line at tight end.

For the third-straight year, the Lobos will be breaking in a new quarterback this coming season.

Seniors A'Darius Carter and Jordan Lawson as well as junior JaVarrs Lampkin and sophomore Haynes King all saw time at quarterback this spring.

Mum was the word in that area.

"Summer is going to be big," King said. "We haven't decided yet who is going to be the guy. I think it's important that they all have a good summer.

"But August will be the most important of all."

Lampkin and King split time with the first team offense in the early spring while Carter and Lawson finished up the baseball season. Carter's return while Lawson returned from an injury sent Lampkin and King splitting time between the JV and the second-team offense, as they did in the spring game.

Carter, standing 6-2 at 200 pounds, took the first two series with the first-team offense during the Green-White Game.

At receiver, Kamden Perry, Kendle Johnson and Jacob Johnson drew the praise.

"Receivers and running backs, both of those units had good springs," King said. "I feel like Jacob, Kendle and Kamden all stood out and played well.

"I was pleased with all of them, not only their ball skills and route running but their blocking as well."

The Lobos are also tasked with replacing two 1,000-yard rushers from a year ago.

Jessie Anderson, who turned heads a year ago as a sophomore, as well as Keilyn Williams, Jaquan Edwards and Jason Roundtree all rotated heavily and brought a dynamic of size and speed, as well as fullback Paul Hutchins.

"Williams and Edwards, two smaller guys, played really big," King said. "They're tough and had to be because they got hammered on by the defense.

"They're a a good compliment to our heavier package with Jessie and Paul. They can run the ball out of our I-formation and split out wide in the slot.

"They give us another dimension."

Anderson, particularly over the final week and in the Green-White Game, brought the physicality he displayed a year ago.

"I told him before we started that it wasn't going to be easy because, one, we're breaking in a new offensive line for the most part and, two, he was a marked man because even though they're your teammates, they're going to get after you," King said. "There was some frustration early, he was trying to do too much but he really developed patience and trust. Granted, there wasn't too much room to run.

"We had another late conversation and things turned and he finished strong."

King perked up when talking about special teams as the Lobos welcome back the entire unit with kickers Chris Kessler and JK Martin.

"We've got two really good kickers that can punt as well," King said. "Our deep snapper is back, our holder is back and we're expecting good things there."

MOVING FORWARD

Now the attention turns to the summer and 7-on-7.

The Lobos will host an area league for four weeks with two Longview squads as well as Pine Tree, Tatum, Hallsville, Jefferson and New Diana beginning Monday, June 5 and running through June 26. The weekly league will start at 6 p.m.

Longview will compete in two 7-on-7 state qualifying tournaments, the first on June 10 in Lufkin and the second on June 17 in Tyler.

After that, August comes fast.

"It'll be here quick," King said. "What we started in the offseason carried over into spring and it's going to have to keep going all the way into August.

"It's not over and we've still got a lot of work to be done. I'm just proud of how they grinded. There were 177 kids out there. We're going to have to find some more lockers and that's a good problem to have.

"There's leadership in the locker room and like we did on the field, it really developed over the course of the spring and finished strong."

(Follow Hayden Henry on Twitter: @hayden_h)

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