Passing the torch is a common practice in high school sports. The inevitability of senior leaders leaving a team is what every coach, player, parent, and fan must face. But sometimes you have a group of players who build the flame of the torch so big and so hot that people question the capabilities of the newest torch recipients and if they can handle it. Mansfield now faces that exact scenario this upcoming 2020 football season. The only difference is, no one is questioning the capabilities of the new incoming torchbearers.
The Tigers lost a lot of talent and experience, to say the least. Not only will they be losing 14 seniors, but they’ll be losing 14 game-changing superstar seniors. Mansfield’s high octane offense will be without All-State and All-Conference QB Ethan Stovall who was arguably one of Mansfield’s best gunslingers ever. And the Wide Receiver core of Layton Howard, Tyler Holmes, Jaicy Griffin, and Clay James will not be returning to suit up. These Four Horsemen of the Touchdown Apocalypse made miracle catches and left defenses scratching their heads after every whistle. The spotlight stayed on the playmakers for most of the season, but EVERY senior on the team helped to reset the standard for Mansfield Tiger Football.
“We are losing blindside tackle, Jacob Brown, who has anchored that position for three years and played defensive line. OFF/DEF Linemen Coby Hearron and Zach Lowe were absolutely fierce in the trenches. Defensive Specialists Blayne Bryant and Cameron Macon redefined the term head hunter as they held nothing back with every tackle. RB Will Meadows did excellent work as a scatback and shut down the edge game as an outside LB. Special Teams guru Brandon Carlton proved to be a great asset who could do it all for us. Ever speedy Luke Ridenhour covering the field like no one we’ve seen. And add on Mr. Do-Everything Isaac Cothran who played LB, RB, TE, Blindside Tackle, Center, Deep Snapper, you name it. All of these guys logged tremendous time on both sides of the football,” expressed head coach, Tim Cothran.
So with that much experience and talent graduating, who can fill their shoes and keep the torch burning? Well, Mansfield isn’t a one and done program anymore. They have developed a deep talent pool over the past few years to create a “reload” system rather than a rebuilt one. Where one player steps out, another is set and ready to equally fill that void. Another plus, is that the days of only a hand full of players to choose from are over. The Tigers have a full dump truck load of players and they’re not just bodies filling a suit either. These players have a winning mentality and the skills to back it up.
“Replacing this much talent is hard but we feel like we have some guys who will step in and continue the success of our program. We’re looking forward to seeing what incoming junior QB, Zayne Dugan, will do. We feel like he has the tools to keep this offense rolling. We will rely heavily on our returning starters to lead the younger guys. Randy Claude will take over Isaac Cothran’s role as Mr. Do-Everything and has many talents that we will depend on. We should have a sizable and solid line this year as well. Bri Sanderson will anchor the line as the most experienced along with Jared Schmidt who will also be adding experience coupled with a great work ethic.”
“We are hoping to get Lorenzo Alarid and Dalton Pettigrew back as well. Christian Cass has a solid chance to stabilize the line and earn a concrete spot. Shawn Brown and Cody Fudge will be returning to strong roles in multiple positions. Austin Carlton certainly has big-play potential and will be heavily relied on as a target for Zayne. Dru Buckner has tremendous strength and drive and will be able to fill a spot as well. Noah Crane has a love for the game and will compete for a spot. We also have a number of freshmen who will be competing for playing time. As Linemen: John Broadaway, Braxton Byers, and Codee Helms. Utility Athletes: Caleb Collier, Kindel Noblitt, and Austin Quinalty. And Receiver/RB athletes: Greyson Baggett, Drew Elmore, Darton Hoopengarner, Tommy Phang, Clint Stovall, Fisher Willsey, and Tyler Woolbright.”
With all of that sounding great, the Tigers still face their newest and most challenging foe for the upcoming season. COVID-19 has put a halt on high school sports and that includes spring/summer practice. With so much newness involved in this group, practice and communication during this downtime are key. The Tigers may be on a break from the field, but at their homes, they haven’t slowed down a bit. They’re doing what exercises they can at home and even being creative and innovative with some of them to stay in top shape. This isn’t a downtime for the coaches either. The Tiger coaching staff is working overtime on playbooks and planning ahead.
“We are trying to stay in touch with our kids the best we can. The coaches have been in communication with each other, running through different plans and adjustments that we can make as time keeps moving forward. We are working on different contingency plans so that when we get the go-ahead, we can hit the ground running. Personally, it is driving me crazy. We should be starting spring practice right now so being out of my routine is quite challenging. But with everything that is going on, we’ll be ready when the time comes. I think this team will be very competitive. Our personality will be different, but that is to be expected when you have to replace so many seniors. This team will have its own identity. They have contributed, watched, and observed the exiting seniors the last two years. They know what it takes to win. They expect it and we expect it.”
When the season starts, the Tigers will have to be on point as they face off teams from one of the state’s top conferences, the 3A-1. Although the conference lost Booneville, Lamar, and Paris, the remaining teams will not be a cakewalk by any means. Charleston, Cedarville, and West Fork will be wanting to avenge their losses against the Tigers last season and Greenland will be looking to take back to back wins vs Mansfield. Then you have the “newbies” to the 3A-1 in Hackett, Lavaca, and Lincoln. Although they may be rookies to the conference, Mansfield has played both Hackett and Lavaca in non-conference games for the past couple of years and those programs have proven that they can hold their own against the Tigers. “It is nice to see some new faces that are old rivals. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Hackett and Lavaca were in conference with Mansfield and it is nice to be playing them again in a conference setting. Lincoln is an interesting addition and could become a great rival in the years ahead.”