Bastrop Rams Preview
Bastrop may not be as far along as coach Adrian Burnette would like, but the Rams are in a much better position than a year ago.
Entering last season with only three returning starters and undergoing a late coaching change, the Rams scrapped their way to a 5-5 record under interim head coach Marcus Yanez.
Bastrop, once again, is counting on significant contributions from underclassmen, but is considerably more experienced this time around.
"People don't understand the learning curve a lot of these kids had last year," said Burnette, who was promoted from offensive coordinator to become the Rams' fourth head coach in as many seasons. "Two years ago, we had such a big class, and such a good class, but it really set us back last year. We had to play a lot of first-year sophomores and first-year juniors."
For that matter, the Rams started a couple of seniors who had never played varsity football.
Bastrop also started a quarterback who had never taken a snap in an organized game. Predictably, Quaterius Hawkins had his ups and downs as a sophomore. With a year of seasoning, the next step for Hawkins is to cut down on his interceptions.
"The coaching is going to be the opposite this year," Burnette said. "Last year, I encouraged some of those interceptions. I didn't want him second-guessing himself. I wanted him to go with what he saw and let it rip, then we could come back and see what went wrong."
Quaterius Hawkins did his share of good things, as well, directing an offense which averaged 32.8points per game. With a year to learn from his mistakes and grow more comfortable at the position, Hawkins should only get better.
"There comes a point in time where as a quarterback, you have to make in-game adjustments on the fly," Burnette said. "He has to be more in tune with the receivers and the system we're running, and I think he has a better grasp on both of those."
A.J. Fenceroy, who saw spot duty as a freshman, and freshman Morris Washington are the backups.
A deep and talented group of receivers will do nothing but assist QuateriusHawkins' growth.
Junior Christian Smith is back for an encore after earning first-team Class 4A All-State accolades as a sophomore. While Smith clearly has the ball skills, Burnette is working with him on the intangibles.
"We're expecting big things from Christian," said Burnette, a former Bastrop High and Tulane wide receiver. "The biggest things I'm expecting from him are consistency and leadership."
Smith is far from the Rams' only weapon in the receiving corps. Lawrence Moore Jr. was a second-team All-District 2-4A selection last season, Sir'Quan Hawkins, the quarterback's cousin, showed big-play capability at times, and Calvert "Big Body" Johnson has been arguably the most pleasant surprise of preseson camp.
"As far as a sleeper jumping off the page at you, I am expecting big things from Calvert and Sir'Quan," Burnette said.
Others projected to figure into the rotation are Fenceroy, Celinto Traylor and Tyrin Smith.
All but one of the seven will be back next year.
"Lawrence Moore is the only senior of the group," Burnette said.
As with Quaterius Hawkins, Burnette expects more from the receivers in 2017.
"Something that slowed us down last year was our inability to push the ball up the field vertically," Burnette said. "We have worked hard on that since the end of last year. I really think the vertical addition to our passing game is going to make us that much better."
Desi Holmes, a first-team All-District performer, is the veteran in an otherwise untested backfield. Holmes showed what he is capable of in a 23-carry, 159-yard, 3-TD effort in a 50-41 first-round playoff loss to Livonia.
"Desi ran the ball well last year, especially in the last game of the year against Livonia," Burnette said. "I hope the last game spills over into this season."
Holmes is joined in the backfield by Kyrese Lawrence, Cartavious Allen and Bobby Smith.
"All of our running backs are doing a pretty decent job of carrying the ball," Burnette said. "Desi (and Antonio Caldwell) really carried the bulk of the load for us last year, but we are blessed to have a junior and two sophomores coming up. They are all going to be able to run the ball pretty well in the near future."
Burnette prefers dual threat backs.
"In the spread offense, you like to get everybody involved on the ground and in the air," Burnette said. "The more you can do, the more you can touch the ball."
Center Carter Ellison and senior right tackle Chancelor Johnson return on the offensive line. Senior tackle Noray Robinson and senior guard Maleek Mays man the left side with sophomore James Carter, a part-time starter last season, taking over at right guard.
"We're small, but we have some pretty good athleticism," Burnette said of the O-line.
Ellison started every game, taking on the shotgun snapping responsibilities.
"It was huge that Carter Ellison was able to come in as a freshman and do what he did," Burnette said.
Seniors Zion Lawton and Chris Thirdkill (formerly Goldsby) will also factor into the seven-man rotation.
"We have some young guys who are going to fill in here and there, but those are the seven we are going to use," Burnette said.
Defensively, the Rams' inability to make third down stops has been a glaring weakness during recent years. This has not escaped Burnette's attention.
"It doesn't always work, but you have to continuously emphasize it — get off the field on third down defensively, and stay on the field on third down offensively," Burnette said. "Any way possible, we have to get off the field on third down. I don't know how many times it's happened since I've been back (the past two seasons), but a dropped interception or a fumble we didn't get has cost us. A couple of plays later, the other team strikes up the band. I've seen it too many times. We have to take advantage of opportunities to get off the field."
Junior T.J. Blanch returns for his third season as a starter at defensive end, where he is joined by sophomores Terrion Morgan, Denterrius McHenry and Markell Peoples. Blanch and Peoples can also move inside, if necessary.
"T.J. is the ultimate team leader," Burette said. "He's the guy we're going to rely on to get us through the tough times and help out the young kids who haven't been through the battles before."
McHenry crosses over to defense after earning second-team All-District honors at tight end as a freshman.
"Denterrius McHenry is too big of an asset to sit on the sidelines and wait on the handful of tight end plays," Burnette said. "It's about getting him on the field."
Junior Quandarious Rhodes, a spot starter last season, sophomore Xavier Whitmore and freshman Jordan Doaty are the tackles.
Linebacker is an area of uncertainty following the graduation of first-team All-District performer John Tappin III and Jacari Jones. Junior Kintrae Robinson and sophomores Germany Powell, Robyone Williams, Karrise Jackson, Kintrae Robinson and Dylan Owens are all in the hunt for playing time.
"We have a bunch of young kids," Burnette said. "We are still trying to find where they fit, and who is the best fit to be out there."
Once strong safeties C.J. Mullens and Phillip Jackson are healthy, the secondary is expected to be the strength of the defense. Mullens gained first-team All-District acclaim as a sophomore.
Lawrence Moore Jr. and senior Zedarrion Ridgell are the staring corners, with sophomores Jayden Davis and Chris Lumpkins in reserve.
Fenceroy is the strong safety.
Moore and Fenceroy would be classified as athletes.
"I am a firm believer in putting the best 11 on the field," Burnette said. "(Moore and Fenceroy) are two of the most talented athletes on the team. We want to use their skills to the best of our ability. Anything they can contribute, we want to be able to get it out of them."
It's no secret that the kicking game has been a lingering problem for the Rams. Burnette has made a conscious effort to work on at least one area of special teams play in every practice.
Blanch will handle the field goals and kickoffs with Fenceroy in charge of the punting.
In his efforts to upgrade the kicking game, Burnette may have uncovered a diamond in the rough.
"Freshman Akio Tappin has been a big surprise for us," Burnette said. "He is going to be a great asset. If he wasn't a freshman, I would probably actually start him, but I want to wait and let him get a couple of (freshman/JV) games under his belt. He is our kicker of the future."
Traylor is the long snapper with Smith doing the holding (yes, Burnette plans to kick extra points this year).
BASTROP HIGH SCHEDULE
8-25 Bastrop Jamboree
Delhi vs. Richwood, 6 p.m.
Delhi Charter vs. Bastrop, 8 p.m.
9-1 at Carver
9-15 Calvary (Delta Night)
9-22 at Richwood
9-29 at Menard
10-6 Brother Martin (Pink Out)
10-20 at Franklin Parish*
10-27 West Ouachita* (HC)
11-3 Neville* (Senior Night)