El Paso Parkland became a breakout team last year under head coach Josh Kirkland. The Matadors were poised to take another step in 2017, but the team was met with a sudden change.
Kirkland left Parkland to take the head coaching job at 6A Kyle Lehman in the Austin area just a couple weeks into spring practice. Defensive coordinator Eric Frontz was named the interim coach following the move. Even with the change in leadership, the Matadors have kept moving forward.
“First of all, congratulations to him,” Frontz said, “He took a great opportunity and that’s something that he wanted to do. We’re just getting back to work and we’re keeping a lot of the things that he implemented on offense and defense. We have a good thing going right now.”
“It was a surprise when he left but I’m happy for him,” said rising junior running back Deion Hankins, “Things haven’t changed and we’re moving forward.”
Coming off an 8-4 record and a 5A bi-district championship, the Matadors wanted to continue to build off of what they had accomplished in Kirkland’s one season as head coach. Hankins is back after rushing for 2,812 yards and 23 touchdowns last year and now has a number of college offers including from Texas Tech, UTEP, Oklahoma State and Utah.
“Deion is Deion,” Frontz said, “He’s fantastic and never skips a beat. He’s even added a little bit of quickness to his game.”
“He’s phenomenal,” said senior quarterback A.J. Briggs, “He’s a great help in the backfield and takes a lot of pressure off my back when I need it.”
Briggs is back as well for the Matadors after earning the starting job last year. In his first year playing quarterback, Briggs put up solid numbers (2,427 yards, 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions).
Now heading into year two, Briggs has seen quite a bit of growth and a new sense of comfort at the position.
“The game started slowing down for me towards the end of last year,” Briggs said, “I understood more about reading defenses and knowing where the ball had to and I feel even more comfortable with that this spring.”
“He’s improved tremendously,” Frontz said of his senior quarterback, “He was a little bit heavy last year and lost about 30 pounds which just shows how hard he’s worked to become a more effective quarterback. All the little things about being a good quarterback he’s improved on after throwing him into the fire last year and we’re expecting big things from him.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the biggest losses will come in the secondary as cornerbacks Patrick Sullivan, Frank Kriegbaum, and Jacquavious Tinnyhill are all graduating. But the Matadors make up for that up front led by rising seniors Davontey Hankins at linebacker and Nathan Mendoza at defensive end.
“Things are going well,” Hankins said, “I can see the defense really starting to come together and get much better from where we were last year.”
“I’ve really worked hard to improve my game,” Mendoza said, “But the energy from everyone is still there and if we work hard, I think we’ll have a chance to be really good again.”
Frontz sees his defense breaking out in 2017, but emphasized one big key in order to get back to that level which he said was on notice in the team’s area round game against Lubbock Cooper.
“We have to be consistent on both sides of the ball,” Frontz said, “We have good players coming back that have played and have experience. In the area round game, we went up against a team that was a lot stronger than we were and that was something we needed to put an emphasis on.”
As the Matadors enter the second half of their spring practice, they find themselves trying to regain it after just their second playoff appearance in the last seven years. To put into context, the Matadors had made the postseason for seven years in a row prior to that run. Frontz still has the interim tag on him but he believes that Parkland has that potential to make a deeper run.
“Our goal is to win a district championship and get a couple rounds deep in the playoffs. We saw what it took last year and a lot of these kids had a sour taste in their mouth after the area round game. We’re expecting big things this year.”
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