Cardinals ready to storm back into playoff picture

Richard Hawkins photo from TVCC scimmage against Texas A&T via TVCC Facebook page.

By Benny Rogers/TVCC Sports Information

A return to the Southwest Junior College Football Conference playoffs is at the top of the to-do list for the Cardinals in 2019.

After five straight years of reaching the postseason as the No. 1 seed, the Cardinals missed the playoffs a year ago. The absence has them motivated.

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“As a program, missing the playoffs is not what we’re about,” said Sherard Poteete, who begins his seventh year at the college and second as head coach. “Since last season ended, our focus has been to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“Our goal has always been, and always will be, competing for championships.”

The Cardinals went 4-5 on the season and 3-4 in conference in 2018. They were one win shy of crashing the postseason party.

Though motivated by having missed the playoffs, Poteete and the Cardinals are fully focused on what’s ahead, not in the rearview mirror.

“We had a good spring and our summer conditioning is going well,” Poteete said. “I’m excited about the potential of this team.

“Of course, like every year, the key in this league is staying healthy.”

Staying healthy will be a tough challenge for the Cardinals. Though the nine-game schedule features an unprecedented seven games at Bruce Field, they will play nine-straight weeks without benefit of an open date. Once they kick off the season at home Saturday, Aug. 31 against New Mexico Military, it’s a non-stop trip through the regular season.

“Playing that many weeks consecutively will present challenges,” Poteete said. “Our depth will be the key.

“We are preparing ourselves both physically and mentally for the grind.”

You won’t find Poteete and the Cardinals complaining about the schedule. In fact, they hope the nine-straight weeks stretches to 11, which would mean they have reached the SWJCFC regional championship game.

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To return to the playoffs, the Cardinals will lean heavily on the defense, which returns seven starters. The offense returns just three starters, though potential in a solid group of newcomers is not lacking.

Returning to lead the defense are linebackers Race Moser (6-1, 233), Joren Dickey (6-3, 225), Jaden Dockery (6-0, 185) and Noah Johnson (5-10, 217), tackle Stephen Turner (6-3, 255) and Cedrick Williams (5-11, 190) and Elhadji Diop (5-11, 195) in the secondary.

“The back end of our defense will be our strength as the season begins,” Poteete said. “We’ve obviously got to develop the guys up front as quickly as we can to keep from straining the back end.

“Defensively, we are going to be aggressive – that’s who we are. It’s all about creating turnovers and getting red zone stops.”

On the offensive side of the ball, wide receivers Trai Gardner (6-0, 200) and Deshon Moreaux (5-11, 185) and lineman Kameren Williams (6-5, 297) are the lone returning starters.

The lack of starters returning on offense doesn’t have Poteete losing sleep at night.

“I’m excited about the depth we have at quarterback and wide receiver, that we have two of the best tackles in the nation (Williams and Brandon Coleman, 6-6, 310) and a back (Ja’Quan Tillis, 5-10, 190) who can take it to the house at any time.”

Poteete also rests easy when it comes to putting points on the scoreboard via the kicking game. The Cardinals have a valuable weapon in kicker Eddie Godina (5-10, 180). Godina, who punted as a freshman and redshirted as a sophomore due to an injury, has a powerful leg and will handle kicking/punting duties.

“Eddie has a big leg,” Poteete said. “He benefited tremendously redshirting last year. Now, anytime he steps onto the field it’s as if he’s within his range.”

Godina kicked a 63-yard field goal during the spring game and had multiple other 50-plus-yarders split the uprights in the spring.

To keep from relying on Godina for the bulk of points, Poteete is well aware the SWJCFC, like all other levels of the game, depends on high-level productivity at quarterback. Though none of his candidates have ever taken a snap in a game as a Cardinal, he’s confident “the guy” will emerge.

“To win in this league, you’ve got to have someone playing at a high level at the position,” Poteete said. “I’m excited about the kids we have and what we’ve seen from them.”

The top four candidates at the position are sophomore Jeremy Hunt (6-2, 237), redshirt freshman Riley Russell (6-2, 210), redshirt freshman Kobe Craft (6-0, 195) and freshman Matt Morrissy (6-5, 218). All except Craft participated in spring football with the Cardinals. He participated in spring drills at the University of North Texas.

Hunt started 10 games at Missouri Central last season.

“All four are athletic and have good arms,” Poteete said. “It’s going to be a great competition in fall camp. I’m looking forward to seeing who steps up and claims the job.

“I know this, we’ve got a chance to be very explosive.”

DEFENSE

Ends

Returning Starters: None  

Players To Watch: Justin Sanders 

Top Newcomers: Christian Owens 

Position Coach: Mark McMillan (2nd season)

Poteete Says:  “Young at the position, having lost kids to four-year schools. Expecting big things from (Justin) Sanders, who signed with Florida International and sat out a year. Our recruits are young and athletic, just green.”

Tackles

Returning Starters: Stephen Turner 

Players To Watch: Derrick Ray 

Top Newcomers: Rasheed Lyles 

Position Coach:  Mark McMillan (2nd season)

Poteete Says: “Have a good combination of speed, quickness and strength on the interior of line.” 

Linebackers

Returning Starters: Race Moser, Joren Dickey, Jadan Dockery, Noah Johnson 

Players To Watch: Jacob Berry  

Top Newcomers: Jaeden Ward 

Position Coach: Blake Bryan (8th season)

Poteete Says:   “Our most experienced group and one we will lean on as the young guys up front develop. (Monzelle) DeLoach is a long athletic kid who can run.”

Secondary

Returning Starters: Elihadji Diop, Cedrick Williams   

Players To Watch: Ty Taylor, Tre Hawkins, Zach Thomas 

Top Newcomers: Jecareon Lathan

Position Coach: Will Reed (13th season)

Poteete Says:  “Lot of guys with experience in this group to play behind our experience linebackers. Group is very athletic and can run.”

OFFENSE

Line

Returning Starters:  Kameren Williams   

Players To Watch: Brandon Coleman, Makai Hart 

Top Newcomers:  Sam Neuman , Dominic Lange

Position Coach: Tyler Uselton (1st season)

Poteete Says:  “Athletic on the edges and big in the middle. Excited about the potential of this group.”

Wide Receivers

Returning Starters: Trai Gardner, DeShon Moreaux  

Players To Watch: Jamon Mack, Kishaun Fisher, CJ Williams, Keyonte Fiakpui 

Top Newcomers:  Nate Singleton

Position Coach: Antonio Whitfield (10th season)

Poteete Says:  “Lot of experience returning. Deep and have some playmakers both at the slot and outside.”

Tight Ends

Returning Starters:  None

Players To Watch: Kyle Wakefield  

Top Newcomers: None

Position Coach: Jeremy Hammock (1st year)

Poteete Says:  “(Kyle) Wakefield is very athletic and can line up at multiple positions. Have tough and hard-nosed depth at the position.”

Running Backs

Returning Starters:  None

Players To Watch: Ja’Quan Tillis

Top Newcomers:  Zion Hester

Position Coach: Jeremy Hammock (1st year)

Poteete Says:  “Lots of speed, size and versatility. Group can catch as well as run. Will be exciting to watch.”

Quarterbacks

Returning Starters: None 

Players To Watch:  Jeremy Hunt, Riley Russell, Kobe Craft

Top Newcomers:  Matt Morrissey

Position Coach: Sherard Poteete (7th season)

Poteete Says:  “Though none have ever taken a snap for us in a game, there’s a lot of experience — if not game experience, practicing college football experience.”


Specialists

Returning Starters:  None

Players To Watch:  Eddie Godina

Top Newcomers:  Chris Esqueda  (K),  Kyle Williamson (LS)

Poteete Says:  “(Eddie) Godina has a big leg and can do it all. Redshirt season last year helped him tremendously.”

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