Monday night, our high school Training Camp Road Trip continues with a look at District 3-4A Div. II with the Vernon Lions. They're hoping to get back to the playoffs after having their three-year streak snapped last year.
"It's a big disappointment that we didn't make the playoffs last year," said head coach Mark Bateman, "You know our other three years that I was here we had some good years and deep in the playoffs, and it was a disappointment."
Last year, Vernon missed the playoffs on the very last play of the season. The loss to Iowa Park kept Vernon out of the playoffs for the first time under Coach Bateman. This year, Vernon brings back plenty of talent from last year and they expect to bounce back and make another playoff run.
"These young guys worked really hard in the spring and the off season," said Coach Bateman, "[They] worked hard in the summer lifting and running, and I think they are going to be in great shape. Their confidence level is there. I think they are really wanting to get back into the playoffs so their desire is pretty high."
"We've been working hard a lot because you know that was a big L for us," said senior defensive end Donnell Kendricks."You know it was a good comeback but yeah we are working ten times harder to go to the playoffs."
The Lions have a good amount of returning starters on defense and they should be able to rely on that side of the ball early on in the season as the offense comes around.
"I expect big things," said senior linebacker Juan Salazar. "Everybody has been working hard. We've got a lot of returning starters on defense so I think we will be pretty good."
"We've got a lot of speed," said senior running back Jordan Villalobos. "And then our linebackers and then our line is pretty big too so we've got all it takes."
"We've got really good defensive lineman," explained Coach Bateman, "And we've got two really good linebackers inside. Our two outside linebackers were sophomores last year, and they are juniors now, so they have a year under their belt. They are going to be okay. Secondary is pretty solid, [we've] got some experience back there. So I think if they try to run the ball on us, we've got some people up front that make do the stops on that. And if they throw the football, then we've got some good secondary kids with a lot of skill that can hopefully be able to stop them from doing that. So I think it's going to be a fun year watching our defense."
On offense the Lions have three players competing for the starting quarterback position, and all three players bring something different to the position.
"One of them throws really good and then the other two, they run really good," said Villalobos. "So you never know what's going to happen."
"They are really, all three, looking pretty good," Coach Bateman said. "And all three are different in their own ways. You know, we've got one that can really hum the ball. He's 6'2 and 190 [pounds], throws it very well and has good run[ning ability]. The other two are not as big as he is but one of them is really smart and makes good decisions, and he's a tremendous athlete. Good runner, does some great things with the football, so they all three kind of bring different things to the table for us."
The Lions are also working on opening up the offense this year. Along with the traditional Wing-T offense, they want to sprinkle in some Spread to keep other teams off balance.
"You know, the Wing-T is a lot of running, but we have been working on a little shotgun a little," said Kendricks. "Because you know, we do a lot of running. Basically all teams know what we are doing, so we have been working on a little passing to get better."
"We are going to continue to run the football like we've done in the past," Bateman said. "You know the last four years, we have averaged over 4,000 yards rushing, and we're going to continue to run the football. But we've got some people that can throw the ball; we've got people that can catch the ball; and we are going to try to get some people in some open space and let them do their thing and make some big plays for us. So we are going to do maybe a little more Spread-type stuff a little bit every now and then, just to make people work on some other things other than the Wing-T."
The Lions open up on Friday night, August 26th with a tough test, the Abilene Wylie Bulldogs.
Tomorrow night we'll begin District 4-4A Div. I with another group of Bulldogs, from Burkburnett.
2016 Vernon Lions Schedule
Aug. 26 vs Abilene Wylie, 7:30
Sept. 2 at Altus (OK), 7:30
Sept. 9 vs Burkburnett, 7:30
Sept. 16 at Hirschi, 7
Sept. 23 at Springtown, 7:30
Sept. 30 vs Canadian, 7:30
Oct. 7 BYE
Oct. 14 vs Iowa Park, 7:30*
Oct. 21 at Bridgeport, 7:30*
Oct. 28 vs Graham, 7:30*
Nov. 4 at Krum, 7:30*
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