Itâ€™s been five long years since Sweetwater fielded a playoff team.
Put another way, none of the current Mustangs were in high school the last time it happened in 2008.
Since then, Sweetwater has had four straight losing seasons with a 13-27 record. But there were finally some hopeful signs of a return to prominence last season under the teamâ€™s first-year head coach Shane Mobley, who installed a new spread offense that averaged 364 yards and 25 points a game overall. If the defense improves under Mobley â€” who was the defensive coordinator under ultra-successful Kent Jackson here from 2004-2007 â€” the Mustangs may finally be ready for the postseason this year.
Sweetwater (4-6 last year) returns seven offensive and five defensive starters, most of whom earned all-district recognition. They include quarterback Kaegan Jeffrey, the co-newcomer of the year after throwing for 2,089 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore; and his top two receivers, Bray Amos (50 catches, 652 yards, 7 scores) and Kaleb Hoover (38 catches, 562 yards and 7 TDs). Amos and Hoover were first team all-district selections, as was defensive back Isaiah McGee, who had 56 tackles. McGee and Amos are juniors; Hoover, who has been all-district the past two years, is a senior.
Hereâ€™s how close Sweet-water was to being 6-4 instead of 4-6 in 2012: two losses were by a total of eight points. The first was a 20-16 loss to Andrews in the second week of the season, when the Mustangs were stopped inside Andrewsâ€™ 1-yard line on a last-second drive. The second was even more devastating â€” a 39-35 defeat against Monahans at Mustang Bowl in the teamsâ€™ next-to-last district game. Sweetwater led 35-14 enter-ing the fourth quarter, but Monahans scored 25 unanswered points for a win that may have kept the Mustangs out of the playoffs, while clinching a postseason berth for the Loboes.
Mobley knows Sweetwater has to do a better job of putting opponents away.
â€śWeâ€™ve got to win ball games in the fourth quar-ter,â€ť he said. â€śI think our offense will be pretty explosive, but some of our playmakers will be going both ways. Itâ€™s crucial that other kids be able to step up and give them a breather.
â€śOur biggest deal is to finish. We had several games last year that we were in, we just didnâ€™t finish it off. We need to keep our confidence and intensity for four quarters,â€ť Mobley said. â€śWe need that intensity for the first scrimmage and to keep it all year long.â€ť
Sweetwater will be facing tough tests every week. All five of its pre-district opponents â€” Eastland, Andrews, Breckenridge, Wall and Brownwood â€” were play-off teams in 2012 and in district, only Snyder (3-7) had a losing record a year ago. Four teams, not three, in each district will now go to the playoffs in Class 3A.
Approximately 95 players showed up for workouts this past Monday, with 30 or so expected on varsity.
With a year to adjust to his system, Mobley said the players are â€ś100 timesâ€ť further along than 12 months ago. â€śItâ€™s time for these guys to jell. The sooner they do, theyâ€™ll realize the potential they have,â€ť Mobley said.
â€śBut we need to stay heal-thy,â€ť he added. â€śIf we do, I think we can play with anyone in our district.â€ť
Sweetwater is picked to finish third in the district, behind Wylie and Mona-hans, by The Old Coach Friday Night Football Texas magazine; Dave Campbellâ€™s Texas Football publication picks the Mustangs to finish fourth behind Wylie, Mona-hans and Greenwood.
Jeffrey (200) was Sweet-waterâ€™s No. 3 rusher last season with 266 yards and improved as the season progressed, gaining 107 in the Mustangsâ€™ season finale with Wylie. His backup will be Hayden Reeves (170), who is up from the JV. Mar-quees Jenkins (175) will be the primary runner in the backfield after gaining 364 yards in just six games before a season-ending injury in the district opener.
In addition to Amos (160) and Hoover (175), McGee (160) and Dylan Bennett (170) are expected to be primary receiving targets along with Jonathan Browning (165), Quentin Wetsel (160), James Clift (170), Reeves, Stephen May (175) and Daven Alvarez (170). May and Alvarez will also be used at tight end.
Other running back can-didates are May, Jay Lomas (165), Trey Harvey (175) and Ty Davis (165).
Sweetwaterâ€™s offensive line will return four players with starting experience â€” tackle Angel Caballero (275), guard Andrew Davis (270), center Jordan Putnam (180) and guard Kendall Rea (220). Denato Gaxiola (235) and Ty Crain (205) will compete at the other tackle spot. Davis was second team all-district and Caballero and Rea earned honorable mention.
Austin Marlett (205) will get playing time on the line at both center and guard. Others in the mix include Stephen Le (180), Kevin Thompson (200) and three sophomores â€” Cory Mendez (200), Daniel Maldonado (215) and Israel Vera (230).
Although Sweetwater will be undersized against most of its opponents, â€śWeâ€™ll be stronger physically on the line than we were a year ago,â€ť Mobley said.
â€śYou want your most experienced guys in there protecting the quarterback, but we have other guys who arenâ€™t starting who we think will do OK.â€ť
Alvarez at defensive end is the only returning starter on the line. He received all-district honorable mention last year. Maldonado, Mar-lett and Le will compete for the other defensive end slot while Gaxiola, Vera, Men-dez, Marlett and Thompson will compete at tackle. The team will use a 4-3 base defense, Mobley said.
Ty Davis (68 tackles), May (50 tackles) and Jenkins (42 tackles) all have starting experience at linebacker. May is expected to be in the middle on the 4-3, with Jenkins and Davis on the inside. Clift will also be used as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 setup. Wetsel and Lomas are also linebacker candidates while May and Davis will also get time on the line at end and tackle, respectively.
Hoover will again start at one of the two safety posi-tions, with McGee moving over from cornerback to join him, Mobley said. There will be stiff competition for the two cornerback slots with Amos, Bennett, Browning, Reeves and Harvey among those battling for the job.
â€śWe have more competition for spots than we did a year ago,â€ť Mobley said. â€śWeâ€™re going to be able to set our starters, but then also use a lot of our kids at other positions.â€ť
Offensive coordinator Zac Harrell will now be joined by his brother, Clark, who will coach the secondary. Skylar Houston will also be on the varsity staff fulltime. John Ward is back as defensive coordinator, as are Chris Carruthers, Giles Montgomery, Al Hunt, Jarrod Gee and Roland Herrera. Dane Bennett is now on the middle school staff along with Tony Cor-tez, Chad Copeland and Dan Huskerson. Scott Sloan has been hired as Sweetwaterâ€™s new athletic trainer.