By Greg Ford
WYLIE — The building blocks for the 2016 football season are beginning to take shape at Wylie and Wylie East.
For the last few weeks, both the Raiders and Pirates have spent time at spring practice, where the respective coaching staffs are working to fit the proper pieces into place for the fall.
At East, the focus is on building depth and working in a new offensive scheme.
“We look right now for the first year to have a decent amount of depth,” East head coach Joe Lepsis said.
One reason for that is because of the Raiders’ small senior class, which resulted in 27 returning varsity players, as well as the opening of spots on the roster.
Specifically, Lepsis wants to build depth on the defensive side, a place where the Raiders haven’t had in the past; many players often went both ways (offense and defense).
Offensively, East has always shown the ability to move the pigskin, and will likely do so again in 2015.
Back on that side of the ball will be the likes of quarterback Braden Shewmake, running backs Eno Benjamin and Malik Dean, wide receivers Justin Bailey, Aubrey White (also a running back) and Jared Wyatt, along with four offensive lineman.
The lone difference will be at offensive coordinator, where veteran coach Shawn Purcell takes over the reins. Under him, Lepsis noted, the Raiders will still run a spread offense, but will use new terminology and attack opposing defenses in a different manner than in past seasons.
“Every day on offense (in practice) is a good day,” Lepsis said, “because it’s another day learning the terminology.”
The No. 1 thing Bill Howard and his staff are doing right now is evaluating talent.
“We’re giving the kids an opportunity to perform and they get opportunities in different groups,” he said. “We want to see how they do. We have a lot of scrimmages. We scrimmage almost every day as part of the practice … The key to a young guy developing is doing reps, getting more reps and being successful in those reps.”
While that’s going, the staff is also examining who is going to be the 2016 starters and building depth.
Nine offensive starters return from 2015, when the Pirates advanced to the area round. However, quarterback is not one of them, as the graduating Carsen Cook will have to be replaced.
Currently, Emilio Ames, the back up last season, is the front runner for the job, one to which he brings good size (6-4, around 200 pounds) and a solid arm.
“At this stage of his career, he probably has the best command of our offense,” Howard said.
Other vying for time at signal caller are Travis Price, Stacy Connors and Mike Messer. Also, Howard noted, safety Parker Hawkins can play at signal caller if need be.
“Every position is open, even though we return nine starters on offense,” Howard said. “We’re trying to build depth, and defensively, there are battles going on for corner and safety positions and the defensive line.”
One player expected to step up as a leader will be inside linebacker Lorenzo Keck, with the outside positions likely to be manned by returners Max Lopez and Nathan Weisser. Also back are defensive lineman Taylor Green and Ryan Beattie, the latter of whom was the Class 5A state wrestling champion at 220 pounds. Evan Bailey is back at cornerback in the secondary.
“With those six guys coming back, and with a whole slew of guys who got playing time last year, I feel pretty good about (the defense),” Howard said.
Note: Wylie’s spring practices will conclude Monday, June 1 with the “Night of Champions” at Wylie Stadium. The spring game kickoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.