After running the table during the 2016 season, the Manvel Mavericks were considered one of the favorites to win the Class 5A Division I state title. After beating also-unbeaten Cedar Park in the regional semifinals, it appeared that the Mavericks were well on their way to a final game at AT&T Stadium.
Ironically, Manvel’s season did end at AT&T Stadium but the loss came two rounds too early of their goal, as the Mavericks fell to the eventual state finalist Temple Wildcats.
“I think our team went all in to beat Cedar Park and then that Temple game, we just didn’t play very well,” head coach Kirk Martin said of his team’s loss in the regional finals. “Temple’s a great team but that was just a tough pill to swallow.”
It was a disappointing end for a team that has had high expectations over the last few seasons whether they’ve played in 6A or 5A. But as the team continues into spring practice, Martin believes that his team may be even more talented than the group before.
“Heading into this season, I think the way last season ended gave our kids motivation to do better,” Martin said. “I think we have a real chance to be special just like we were last year.”
In order to keep his talented group healthy, Martin takes a different approach to spring ball. He describes it as more of a 7-on-7 style where the focus is on building depth, getting younger players experience, and keeping his kids healthy for other sports. The biggest departure from traditional spring ball: no tackling.
“We’re still doing the same things from installing our offense, defense and blitz packages,” Martin said, “I just think it’s better that way because it keeps everyone healthy and doesn’t put them in danger for any other sport that they play.”
With a team that Martin calls “rejuvenated”, there is plenty of talent at his disposal. Quarterback Kason Martin enters his second season as the Maverick starter and Coach is looking to see him take the next step after finding his comfort level early on.
Two of his top targets in Kam Scott and Jalen Preston are both back and are each getting looks f from top Division 1 programs. That said, Martin singled out one returner that he believes could be in line for a big year, but may not be getting as much attention.
“Deneric Prince has really had a great spring,” Martin said of his rising senior running back, “He had fewer carries that our other two backs we used last year but he ran for more yards and touchdowns. He’s an every down back and I’m excited to see him get the lion’s share of carries for next year.”
Manvel appears to be just as loaded on defense. The Mavericks have three defensive line starters back, along with linebackers Xavier Rosette and DePriest Taylor. The secondary also has plenty of star power with Penn State commit Trent Gordon, converted linebacker Brian Johnson and a fast, versatile playmaker in Ce’Cori Tolds. Martin’s focus is on building on their depth but he points to one aspect that could be all the difference for Manvel in 2017.
“We’re really solid on special teams,” Martin said, “I want to say that we had anywhere from 8 to 11 kicks returned for touchdowns last year and that’s just unheard of. If we can continue with that consistency, I think that can put us over the top.”
Ultimately, Martin realizes that his team has to step up on the big stage. Even with their season ending earlier than anticipated, the expectations for the Mavericks remain high as ever and he feels his team will be ready for the challenge.
“I think we have a chance to win it all and I think we should win it all. I won’t waver from that,” Martin said, “Until we win it, we haven’t reached our potential. That’s where I’m at with the team and I’m excited and fired up for another opportunity to be great.”
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