By BILL PETERSON
KYLE — The Lehman Lobos open a new football season Thursday night in the same position as always, still hoping that they can win their first district game sometime in the next 11 weeks.
The head coach, Steve Davis, is still there, still hanging with a program that has worked within a system designed to limit his possibilities, but growing a team stronger and stronger every year.
Kicking off their fourth high school varsity season Thursday night (7:30 p.m.) at Bob Shelton Stadium against Riesel, a Class 1A opponent, the Lobos almost certainly will start on the right foot, as is their custom. But a lack of depth has often gotten to them a little less than halfway into the season, just as it often has hit them a little less than halfway into games.
On three occasions last year – against San Antonio Edison, Del Valle and Manor – the Lobos drove toward scores less than two minutes before halftime, only to cough up the ball deep in the opponent’s territory. Inevitably, the other team would drive to a touchdown right before halftime, resulting in a 14-point swing and a downcast locker room at intermission.
This year, the Lobos have reason to hope that pattern won’t re-emerge. They have 18 seniors, a huge improvement over six seniors last year. They placed six players from last year’s 9-1 freshman team on the varsity roster. They expect to be more talented.
“Hopefully, with the increased senior leadership, we won’t have those problems before halftime,” Davis said. “Those problems are a lack of confidence, a lack of experience, a lack of execution and a lack of toughness.”
The Lobos also have competition at quarterback, finally. Junior Harvest Trammell is being pushed by sophomore Matt Anguiano. Whoever takes the snaps will be treated to a productive group of receivers that includes Jaylon Hardaway, Devin Fox, John Martell, Justin Torres, Trey Abeita, Michael Aldridge and Kevin Ibanez.
The Lobos need to replace 1,000-yard rusher R.J. Hardaway, but might have the horses with Jacob Torres, sophomore Charles Williams and Cibolo Steele transfer Rashard Porsche.
Orlando Banda, David Garza, Phillip Windham and David Perry are talented linemen on both sides of the ball, though Davis said he worries about depth on the offensive line and at linebacker. Speed at the wide receivers and running backs should translate into speed for the defensive backfield.
“We’re starting to get a little better,” Davis said. “Athletes are starting to get a little more talent. We’re getting more speed. Our defense should be the best we’ve had.”
The history of Lehman football won’t go into the books as one of the Hays CISD’s better ideas. As the school district grew quickly through the late 1990s and the early 2000s, school officials knew they needed a second high school, but didn’t want to sacrifice Hays High School football, a glorious enterprise that managed to bind Buda and Kyle together under the Confederate flag. So, the new high school opened with attendance zones marked for more economically disadvantaged kids, and if kids with football talent happened to live within that zone, they could easily transfer to Hays.
Thus, Lehman has worked through its first three varsity seasons with lower numbers, with no established community culture to breed winning football, and without the administrative support to hang onto its best talent. And the football field has revealed as much. In Lehman’s first three years, its varsity football team is 6-24, going 1-9 in 2006, 2-8 in 2007 and 3-7 in 2008.
Lehman’s record in district games is an especially irksome 0-19. The good news for the Lobos is that they play in a six-team District 17-4A, meaning just a couple wins in the district this year could put them into the playoffs.
“One thing we’re really looking forward to is earning some respect from our district opponents,” Davis said.
Last season, the Lobos muddled through with six seniors. After winning three of their first five games, the Lobos began unraveling more and more with each passing week.
In last year’s second game of the season against Austin Reagan, the Lobos took a 35-12 halftime lead. But their small roster induced a lack of stamina and the Lobos ended up hanging on for a 49-48 double overtime win. As the year progressed, the Lobos couldn’t progress with it. They lost their last six games.
So, another year arrives. Are the Lobos better? Can they win a couple games in District 17-4A and make the playoffs? Can they avoid the offensive breakdowns on the opponent’s goal line that characterized last season, and can they avoid the team-wide breakdowns that often ruined their chances last year just before halftime?
Four years into varsity football, the Lobos have a majority of seniors — 18 out of their 35-man varsity roster. The talent level is up, and so is the experience.
“I hope some of these seniors can step up and take the reins,” Davis said.
If so, the season could end in a whole different look at Lehman.