By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
BUDA – A new day arrives today for the Hays Rebels, who enter the 2008 football season tonight at Bastrop with their first coaching staff change in 14 years, along with hopes for a long winter against new playoff competition.
Dennis Lanaurey’s retirement as defensive coordinator shifts Doug Ragsdale from offensive coordinator to defensive coordinator, while Chris Smith becomes the new offensive coordinator. Smith takes over an offense with new talent, including Trey Berry at quarterback and a stable of young running backs, most of whom have never logged a varsity carry.
For all the change, though, the Rebels performed to the satisfaction of their coaching staff in scrimmages against Westlake and Cedar Park. And that, by the way, is another change from recent years.
“We didn’t feel good about our scrimmages last year, and we didn’t feel good about them the year before that, either,” Hays Head Coach Bob Shelton said.
Not that the scrimmages matter a great deal. Last year, the Rebels finished 6-4 overall and missed the playoffs out of a tough District 26-4A, but they advanced to the Region IV finals with a 10-4 record in 2006.
Berry took enough snaps at quarterback last year to make this his team in his senior season. However, the Rebels will go without last year’s fullback, Nick DeSantiago, who carried last year for 763 yards as a junior. DeSantiago decided to concentrate his senior year on baseball. Shelton expects newcomers in the backfield, like Torrance Smith and Trace Gandy to take up the slack.
Bastrop finished 1-9 last year under Ron Schroeder, who the town’s movers and shakers hired to revive the program after his highly successful run at Westlake. However, Schroeder decided to pursue other endeavors after last season, so the new coach is Gerald Perry.
Coming to a team with experience at the skill positions, Perry has installed a no-huddle spread offense. Returning starter Matt Homesly is expected to play quarterback, with Reshawn Lincoln and Daryl McFarlin as his top receivers.
The Rebels return five starters on defense, as well as two other players who saw significant time last year. The Hays defensive plan is to keep it simple and aggressive, hoping to expose cracks in a Bastrop team breaking in a new offense.
“Going into the first game, you’re always concerned about a lot of things,” Shelton said. “It brings a lot of apprehension. You hope you’ve worked on everything.”
However, the first game also brings interesting possibilities for the Rebels, who are operating in Houston-oriented Region III for the first time in their Class 4A existence. One searches in vain for anyone around the game who thinks the Rebels won’t win District 17-4A, a six-team collection without pedigreed competition.
And it would be an upset of the highest order if Hays can’t finish in the top four and qualify for the playoffs. The question is how long Hays would last in the playoffs on the new landscape.
Towards toughening up the team, Shelton has scheduled a respectable pre-district slate, including Class 5A teams like Bastrop and Bowie, along with defending Class 4A state champion Rosenberg Lamar. The Lamar game could be extremely telling in five weeks, because the layout in Region III creates the distinct possibility those two schools will meet in the region semifinals or finals.
The big advantage for Hays in Region III is that it would certainly go to the playoffs in Division I as a large school, while most of the powers in Class 4A Region III are smaller schools that either would or should go to the playoffs in the Division II bracket of smaller schools. Brenham, Waller and LaMarque are guaranteed Division II schools, while Dayton, Crosby and Texas City are very likely to wind up in Division II.
Among the Region III schools with much of a track record, only Hays and Lamar are guaranteed to go Division I if they should both wind up in the playoffs. That makes the Hays-Lamar game on Sept. 26 at Bob Shelton Stadium a likely glimpse into a December playoff match.
But all that is a long way down the road. Now, it’s time to get started. First things are first, especially first games.