Mustangs coach outlines plan for bounce-back gridiron campaign
Published 12:04 am Thursday, August 10, 2023
WEST ORANGE — The West Orange-Stark football program is ready to rebound.
Last year’s 5-5 regular season finish and ensuing first-round playoff loss left the Mustangs with a chip on their shoulder.
As head coach Hiawatha Hickman and his staff enter year two at WO-S, there’s reason to believe the Mustangs will return to their winning ways.
“When people and faces in a program change, guys take some time to buy in,” Hickman said. “I think 99 percent of these kids have bought into what I’m trying to do now. Our goal is to attack the season, and I feel like we’ve got just as many athletes as anybody else in Texas. We’ve always got a chance.”
The Mustangs possess all the pieces of a high-octane spread offense. The wide receiver duo of Andrew Cooper and Nick Crosson are going to be a focal point of the passing game.
Hickman said both players look more confident running routes this year and should be valuable weapons.
Jalen Gilmore is expected to be the lead option in a running back committee. He’ll be running behind an offensive line that includes two returning All-District offensive linemen, Joshua Miller and Daylen Edwards.
The final piece of the puzzle is quarterback Marcus Turner. He showed flashes of potential after taking over the starting job last year — with nearly a full season of experience under his belt, he looks primed for an impressive campaign.
“Marcus is ready to roll,” Hickman said. “He’s really gotten integrated into the offense and understands what we want in certain situations. I’m looking for a really big year from him.”
Of course, the Mustangs are arguably better known for their defensive prowess. Hickman said a goal throughout camps has been adding to the existing scheme to become a more versatile unit.
Because offenses are so diverse, he wants to ensure he can throw a wider variety of looks at opponents to keep them on their toes. Heading into year two under Hickman’s lead, the Mustangs are more comfortable with multiple defensive attacks and players have settled in nicely.
The back half of the defense should be a major strength.
The defensive backs are headlined by A’myrin Scott, who earned a First Team All-Defense nod last year. He’s joined by Chris Jones and Tahj Amerson, who are both returning starters.
The Mustangs will also boast one of the best linebacker tandems in the region. Jalen Gilmore is a three-year starter on defense, and junior William Pitre is on his way to becoming a household name.
“Pitre is a typical West Orange linebacker,” Hickman said. “He’ll have offers from everywhere. When you see him on the field, you’re going to say, “That guy’s big, and he’s fast.””
The defensive line is an area of minor concern. There will be fresh faces in the trenches, several of whom are converting over from the offensive line.
They’ve been hitting the weight room hard, though, and the position group should improve as the season progresses.
Expectations for West Orange-Stark are always lofty — that comes with being among Texas’ most historic football programs. While last season was a down year compared to typical standards, Hickman, his staff and many key players gained valuable experience from it.
4A-II’s District 9 will be a dogfight between WO-S, Silsbee, Hamshire-Fannett and Jasper. The Mustangs should be in the mix again moving forward, especially having grown accustomed to the new regime.
“It’s hard trying to move to the future and hang on to the past at the same time,” Hickman said. “Kids are different. The way things are done is different. Football is different than it used to be. We’ve embraced the past and always will.
“All these kids know is a team pursuit, playing defense, silver helmets and the traditions. We’ve moved into some more modern times and are doing things a little bit differently because that’s just naturally how things work. But, the bones of the program are the same.”
— Written by Keagan Smith