In his previous tour of duty here from 2004 through 2007, Shane Mobley served as a top assistant for a high school football program that perennially ranked among the most successful not only in Class 3A but the entire state of Texas.
And since his return to Sweetwater in April, this time as the Mustangsâ head coach, Mobley has been consumed with getting the program back to that level.
After a quarter century of excellence starting in 1984 in which Sweetwater missed the playoffs only three times, the Mustangs have gone just 9-21 the past three seasons with no post-season appearances.
Enter Mobley, a major link to the schoolâs recent glorious past who came back to his West Texas roots after leaving here to serve as an assistant in two much more metropolitan areas of the state â first at Prosper, which is located near the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and was the Class 3A, Division 1 state champion in Mobleyâs first year there, and for the past two years at Seguin which is near the Austin-San Antonio area.
But high school football on Friday nights doesnât get much bigger than in Sweet-water where fans bring a sea of red to Mustang Bowl, one of the most unique and distinctive venues around.
And that sea will bleed even more red if Mobley can return Sweetwater to its winning ways in a tough new district (4-3A) and restore the Mustangsâ great tradition. Sweetwaterâs recent gridiron struggles have been magnified against district opponents the past three years, with only two victories in that span.
For Mobley, it will mean getting the players to believe they are winners.
âTo do that you have to instill the discipline and hard work and accountabil-ity,â he said. âItâs all about instilling and implementing that Mustang pride.â
Class 2A powers Eastland, Wall and Breckenridge and 3A toughies Brownwood and Andrews are on the non-district schedule. The Lions left Sweetwaterâs old 5-3A district and have been replaced by a pair of 2011 playoff teams in Monahans (12-3) and Midland Green-wood (7-5). And 4-3A still has Abilene Wylie, Snyder and Big Spring, all of whom figure to be highly competitive as well.
But with nine starters back on defense, as well as four on the offensive side, there is good reason to believe that Sweetwater will be right in the mix.
âWe want a district cham-pionship for sure,â Mobley said. âBut weâll take one game at a time. We want the kids to play to the best of their ability, and let the scoreboard take care of itself.
âWeâre in probably the toughest 3A district in West Texas. But thatâs what makes it fun.â
There will be a new quar-terback after the loss of three-year starter Taylor Jones to graduation. How-ever, Mobley and offensive coordinator Zach Harrell havenât decided who it will be just yet. The top candidates are sophomore Kaleb Hoover (175) and senior Sean Morrow (170), who threw a total of five passes last year. They will compete with Kaegan Jeffrey (200), who was on the JV squad last year, to run what Mobley says will be a multiple spread attack that could feature a much more wide open passing game. But Hoover, who had a team-high 23 receptions en route to second-team all-district honors last year, and Morrow also figure to get time at wide receiver.
The other receiving candidates for Sweetwater will include Willie Norman (170), Quentin Wetsel (160), Bray Amos (150), Isaiah McGee (160), Colton Belew (165), Emilio Morales (165), Nick Nemir (175), Dylan Bennett (170), Alex Castillo (165), James Clift (165), Shawn Campbell (180) and Daven Alvarez (170).
The top running back candidates are Ryan Linebaugh (185), who rushed for 458 yards and 10 touchdowns; Marquees Jenkins (165), who ran for 192 yards; and Xavier Jones (180). Also competing for a spot are Ty Davis (165), Fabian Vizzerra (185), Chris Gonzales (180), Mark McCann (210) and Bobby Soto (165).
Guard Jonathan Martinez (210) is the only returning starter on the offensive line. Others competing for a spot are Kyle Lambert (225) at both guard and center, Angel Caballero (275) and Luis Gaxiola (200) at left tackle, J.D. Davis (240) at right tackle, Andrew Davis (270) and Kendall Rea (220) at right guard, Ruben Mendez (300) at left guard and Donald Baker (180) and Chase Saunders (260) at center. Tadeo Canon-Masjoan (250), who earned second team all-district honors as a placekicker last year, will also get playing time. Candidates at tight end are Cole Maxwell (190), Alex Garcia (200) and Stephen May (175).
The big defensive change will be moving Linebaugh, a second team all-district performer, from outside linebacker to tackle. The other returning starters are Garcia at middle linebacker, Gaxiola (second team all-district) and Lambert at end, and Nemir (first team all-district), Morrow (all-district honorable mention), Hoover, Norman and Belew in the secondary.
Garcia had 78 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks in 2011 while Linebaugh had 77 tackles, seven for a loss, and three sacks. Gaxiola had 53 tackles, nine for a loss, and five sacks; Nemir had 47 tackles and two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown; and Morrow had 43 tackles and two interceptions, one returned for a TD.
The other candidates on the defensive line are Canon-Masjoan, Martinez, Rea, Baker, Vizzerra, McCann, Maxwell, Alvarez, May, Gonzales, Martinez, J.D. Davis, Caballero, Andrew Davis, Canon-Masjoan and Mendez.The competition at linebacker will also include Jenkins, Ty Davis, Jones, Morales, May, Castillo, Gonzales, Jeffrey and Vizzerra.
The other Mustangs who will be competing for playing time in the secondary as either a cornerback or safety are McGee, Amos, Wetsel, Bennett, Soto, Clift, Castillo and Campbell.