Tread on them

Three takeaways from football’s scrimmage against San Marcos


Parker Maroney

Running back Justin Avery totes the rock against San Marcos. Avery and the rest of the offense clicked Thursday, scoring eight touchdowns.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

High school scrimmages aren’t the ideal environment for a journalist, nor any outside observer for that matter. Players wear random, and sometimes duplicitous, jersey numbers, the game is segmented in ways that are clearly not meant to mimic reality (a 15+ minute block for punting, for example) and coaches are wary to give away too many tricks before the first game. San Antonio Preps’ Scott Hansen went so far as to say that scrimmages are a “waste of time” for those outside of the locker rooms. 

But in a year as tumultuous as this, every bit of information counts. Sure, I only identified about a half-dozen players, but where’s the fun in complaining? Though the game was fake, the potential ramifications are real, and there are three such ramifications that could prove vital to this year’s team.

1. Innovation

Everyone knew that the playbook would change. Two years ago, the game script amounted to, “let Levi Williams run the ball.” Last year, it was centered around the power/speed contrast of running back Jacob Forton and swiss army knife Greg Eggleston. And this year, with former cornerback Jay Nutt under center, the playbook will change again. But this time, to one very foreign to the simple spread concepts run last season.

There were plays with three backs in the backfield, there were plays with none. There were jet sweeps, screens, draws, deep shots, quarterback keepers, West Coast-inspired route combinations, you name it. And Nutt, at one time or another, was able to execute all of them. The team’s bag of tricks is deep, and that should help them avoid becoming to one-dimensional, especially against teams like Judson and Steele, who are well-equipped to defend run-first, pass-never offenses.

There’s also a bit of special teams deception, however, as the return team had… two returners? There wasn’t any special play that they ran, simply two returners lined up about 15 yards from each other on the same line of chalk. One would catch and the other blocked. It was, shall we say, interesting, though whether it will survive into the regular season is yet to be seen. It didn’t fail, per say, but the referees blew the plays dead before allowing the audience a true glimpse at the strategy’s inner mechanics.

2. Stepping up

One of the obvious stars of Thursday’s scrimmage was Gabe Hoskins (or at least I’m pretty sure that’s who he was). Running back #15 ran for a 75-yard touchdown on a halfback sweep on the team’s first possession of the scrimmage, and never looked back. One person remarked that the run game was strong all game (“If they don’t get 5 yards, it’s a disappointment), which was true: I stopped even aknowledging “rinky-dinky” four-yard gains in my notes. There were simply too few of them to warrant inclusion or effort.

This “stepping up” idea permeated the entire backfield, including Nutt, who picked up a couple of big plays of his own throughout the match. Considering the sheer volume of substitutions, it took a lot to stand out. He did, though, through his athleticism and unique passing mechanics both.

The defense stepped up, too: three interceptions (including a pick-six) to San Marcos’ one, and two forced fumbles. And that’s not to mention the three blocked kicks, the big hits or the concerted swarming of the ball carrier, which already looked better than most teams’ midseason convergences.

3. Position changes

My favorite performances of the night came from two, shouldn’t-be-unexpected-but-I-was-surprised-anyway contributors: cornerback Cooper Douglass (a former wide receiver) and former quarterback Chase Senelick (who now fills Douglass’ old spot). 

Douglass blocked a Rattler field goal attempts during the special teams portion of the scrimmage, and was consistently in the right position on passing downs, making key tackles and at one point forcing a deep incompletion while covering multiple players on the back end. He was clearly underutilized as a second receiver last season, and head coach Larry Hill mentioned him back in November as a player who may switch positions. Well, now he’s been called on to help lead a defensive back room that lost all four starters – three to graduation, one to quarterback. And early returns are more than promising.

Douglass’ offensive replacement, meanwhile, was electric. Senelick had highlight-reel plays, including a 75-yard touchdown rush on a sweep off the right tackle and a few other behind-the-line-of-scrimmage plays. But the most notable came later, when the refs stole a pair of scores from the sophomore. First, he caught a 7-yard in route between two defenders, juking one and launching through the other (with a little help from another would-be tackler). A penalty negated the play, and pushed the team back 5 yards, before Senelick drifted into the flats, caught the pass and scampered in for what should’ve been his third score of the day. Instead, the refs called it back again, for another penalty. 

The penalization was not necessarily out of character for this crew of refs, who would later call illegal substitution on Nutt. That heavy-handedness worked out in the end, as they stopped a near-brawl after a hard, post-whistle hit on a Rattler running back but it was tough to see those scores taken away. Still, eight touchdowns ain’t too shabby.

The seemingly random jersey numbers were tough to overcome in the beginning. But as the big plays piled up against legendary coach John Walsh’s San Marcos squad – a 50 yard bomb to Zack McDonald here, three blocked field goals there – I began to feel something very familiar. Like an old friend returning after, oh, I don’t know, 308 days? Smithson Valley football is back, baby. At times, it felt like we would never arrive, but here we are. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.