Lake Travis has been the most dominant program in Central Texas, if not the entire state, during the last ten years. After winning five straight 4A state titles from 2007-2011, the Cavaliers won their first 6A state title last year with a 41-13 victory against The Woodlands. Head Coach Hank Carter was in charge for three of those six state championships and sat down to talk with us about the upcoming season.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: It’s no secret that high school football takes on a bigger meaning in the great state of Texas. What does it mean to you to be a high school football coach in Texas, a place where the ‘Friday Night Lights’ seem to shine a little brighter?
COACH CARTER: I’ve never coached in any other state but i can tell you from going and visiting other universities outside the state that the commitment to having an athletic period during the day and having coaches being full-time employees of the district and teachers, that has really created a great set-up for athletics in the state of Texas. I also think, you know, some kids wake up and are excited about going to school because of the academic rigor and a lot of kids wake up and they’re excited to go to school because they get to play tennis or be in the band or play football or basketball or volleyball so i think it’s something that’s great for the at-risk students and to me given us another hook to help get these kids an education and get them coming to school and taking care of their business.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: With only three returning starters on each side of the ball, how do you go about replacing all the senior leadership that departed the program during the offseason?
COACH CARTER: That’s what spring ball and fall camp is about. We had a month of spring practices and have got a lot of kids with a bunch of experience. We did lose quite a few starters but there’s a large group of kids that are kind of chomping at the bit to show what they can do. I feel like we made a lot of headway in spring, finding out the guys that we felt like we we could plug in at certain spots, but I also think the first couple weeks of practice and maybe even the first month of the season is going to help finish that up.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Here at TexasHSFootball.com, we’re big believers that even in this spread-you-out, basketball-on-grass era of football, games are still very much won in the trenches. Having said that, who are your big guys up front on offense, and how do you feel about that unit going into the fall?
COACH CARTER: Well, we only have one returning starter but it’s our center Matthew Herrera (5-10, 240). Coach Herrera is one of our offensive line coaches so we get a coach’s kid coming back which is the returning starter at center. That’s important. He’s basically the leader of that front five group there, and we’ve got a lot of young kids that are kind of battling for the remaining spots. We’ve got two kids coming in at tackle, Steven Posey (6-4, 250) and Chad Wolf (6-2, 230), that we feel like will solidify that, and then there’s a bunch of guys to me battling it out for the two guard spots. So, you know, we’ll see. I don’t love having to replace four out of five starters but I think we’ve got plenty of kids that can play at that position so I think once they have some time to gel together and for the coaches to get up there and work with them that they’ll be playing good by the time it counts.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Y’all have beaten Westlake 10 times in a row. Is it even a rivalry anymore?
COACH CARTER: Absolutely, it’s a rivalry. I think it’s a game that our kids look forward to playing. It’s a game that our two schools love and it’s a big deal. I think that Westlake has a tremendous program and I think things will continue to be a heated rivalry between out two schools as long as we’re in the same district and same classification and things like that. I think also both the schools have similar expectations year in and year out. I think it’s an awesome rivalry and it’s been a neat one to be a part of.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Central Texas High School football has been on a major upswing the last ten years. How does it feel to play a role in the rise of Austin-area football, and how do you feel the competition has changed over the last decade?
COACH CARTER: Well, I’ve only been here for about ten years so I wouldn’t know a whole lot about it beforehand. To me, it was probably dominated by mainly Westlake having the highest level of success prior to that. And I think the biggest change there has just been growth. Especially, I-35 west has just exploded. It even look south, San Marcos towards New Braunfels and Wimberley. Some of those schools have had some success. I know that for us, when I came here in February 2008, we had about 1,700 students in high school and our principal sent out and e-mail last week that we have almost 3,100 so growth of new families moving into the area. I think a lot could be said the same of Vandegrift and Cedar Park and those other schools that have had some success. For me, I think just the booming population has helped.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Quarterback Matthew Baldwin has yet to start his first game in a Lake Travis uniform, yet nobody has forgotten how he subbed in for an injured Charlie Brewer against Cibolo Steele and completed 8-of-11 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown to close out the 6A DII State finalists in double overtime last year. He’s even earned a scholarship offer from Colorado State already. How do you feel going into the season with Baldwin penciled in as your #1 QB?
COACH CARTER: Gosh, I’m excited about what he’s going to bring to our football team. He’s proven himself that he can step in in a very high-pressured situation and perform and we’re expecting big things out of him. We’ve always known that he was going to be a really good player. Where you’re at on the depth chart has a lot to do with the type of player you are, but also has to do a lot with the guys around you and in front of you, as far as what classification in high school. I think in most programs he would’ve been a starter last year. He happened to be one year behind Charlie. He got a lot of work last year, didn’t start any games, but we are excited about what we’ve seen from him so far, and he had a really good spring and summer, and I’m proud for him that he also trusted the process. You see a lot of kids that would bail and then go move to another school and move to a private school because they don’t think they’re going to get enough time to get themselves some exposure. He really did trust what Coach Wall told him and what I told him, he and his family, about the starter at Lake Travis is typically going to have plenty of folks wanting him to come play football for them at the quarterback position. I’m glad he’s proved us right.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Todd Reesing, Garrett Gilbert, Michael Brewer, Baker Mayfield, Dominic De Lira, Charlie Brewer. Those are the last six starting quarterbacks for Lake Travis football. All six went on to sign scholarships with Big 12 schools. What’s the secret behind all the success y’all have had at that position? Is it something in the water?
COACH CARTER: I think it’s a lot of things. No. 1, there’s a lot of great kids that come up in our attendance zone wanting to play quarterback. Obviously, I wasn’t here to coach Todd Reesing, but he was a tremendous competitor from what I’ve seen of him on video and I watched him play when he was in college on television several times. So I think that got the ball rolling, but I think you go back to the growth of the area. Our school district has doubled or tripled in the last ten years or so. I think that the more kids come in, the more opportunities there are to have really talented and driven kids and we’ve had those at the quarterback position and a lot of positions. We’ve had five different play callers for our six state championships on offense. So really, five different offenses, but they’ve all been similar in that we’ve thrown the football all around and for the most part it’s been kind of a hurry up offense. So I think that gets kids excited about playing the quarterback position, and then we’ve been fortunate enough, I think, to have some great offensive coaches come in and develop those kids. So I just think it’s a combination of several things and we hope that string continues.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: How do you feel about the job your youth, middle school and sub-varsity coaches do at getting your players ready for the varsity level?
COACH CARTER: I think they do a tremendous job. A matter of fact, our two middle school coordinators are meeting with the youth football, the folks from LTYA, just a few minutes ago. They had a little two hour clinic just talking to them about ‘hey, here’s what we do to get kids ready to play middle school football.’ And mainly, spending a ton of time talking about the safe way to tackle and hit and the things to be careful for, not only injuries, but keeping them hydrated and making it fun. I feel like, especially in this part of the world, kids have a lot of options so we want to make sure that we’re keeping youth football and football in general as safe as we can get it, and ensure that the first time we’re introducing football to a kid, we’re not giving them a bad taste in their mouth. So that’s one thing that our middle school coaches have done with our youth coaches, and we do the same thing in the spring with our high school guys, putting on clinics and things like that. But you have to thank all of our coaches through LTYA all the way to middle school, freshman, JV, varsity. They do a tremendous job just being vertically aligned and teaching the culture of our program which is we want to have fun, nobody is going to outwork us, we’re going to get after it and understanding that it’s really about teaching kids a team sport, and that’s the ultimate team sport.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Over the years, we’ve been seeing more and more run-pass options (plays where the OL blocks like it’s a run play, but WRs run routes, and the QB has the option of handing it off or throwing it) at every level of football. How has the advent of the run-pass option changed the game?
COACH CARTER: It spreads it out a little bit more. I’m a defensive guy, so it’s legal cheating I guess because officials rarely call it. Offensive lineman are blocking a linebacker on a downfield pass play. Sometimes I wish the referees would get the flag out of their pocket a little bit quicker on that because it really does put you in a bind defensively, especially if they’re letting offensive lineman get down the field a little bit to do that. But it spreads the field out and I think what it does to defenses is it makes you get a little bit more into a one-high (safety) defensive gameplan where you have to cover down everybody. Some of the same components that the triple option or the veer does. It makes you get a little more spread out so it allows team with excellent athletes to play in space. The more space, miss one tackle, there he goes.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: There’s been some news made the offseason about referee shortages around the state. What would you say to someone thinking about getting into officiating, and how do you feel about the job the Texas Association of Sports Officials does at providing y’all with top-notch officials for Friday nights?
COACH CARTER: I would encourage folks that are looking for a way to stay involved in the game, and a way to make a little extra money, I would encourage them to get into officiating. I think it’s incredibly difficult. There’s some unique challenges to this part of the world. The cost of living in Austin, in general, I think effects a lot of the industries. Officials and bus drivers and things like that where it’s not a full-time job. For the time you’re putting into it, you’re making some decent money, but I think that’s a unique challenge. I think that the officials association does a great job of giving us quality officials. The officials aren’t perfect no more than the coaching going on in this games is perfect. I have a ton of respect for the job that those guys do. It’s a tough one. I don’t envy them. We try to teach our coaches at all level in all sports to make sure that they’re communicating with officials in a respectful manner. It’s not about putting on a show or yelling at an official. That’s not going to make it better. That’s actually going to make it worse. Just to understand that. I think it is a tough job. In the years that I’ve been here at Lake Travis, only a handful of times did I really think there was a poor job done officiating. I’ve had a lot more games where I was a poor coach than the officials did a poor job.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: A lot was made about how great y’alls offense was last year, but your defense was pretty salty as well, giving up less than eight points a game over the last 14 contests. How do you feel about that side of the ball going into 2017?
COACH CARTER: I’m proud of how we finished up and rallied after a pretty slow start defensively. I’m excited about the kids we have but we got to get a chance to see what they do and what they look like after the summer workout and things like that. I know we got a lot of kids that are going to be playing different positions then they played a year ago, and so there will probably be a learning curve to that, but we’re excited about the group of kids that are going to be playing defense.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Which college and pro teams do you root for on Saturdays and Sundays?
COACH CARTER: My dad is an Aggie so I grew up being an A&M Aggie fan. I drank the maroon-and-white Kool-aid all growing up. I would say that we’ve always been Aggie fans in our household, but really I’m a fan now of wherever Lake Travis kids are playing. Whether that’s at TCU, OU, UT, Baylor, Cal, Harvard, Penn, Fresno State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Northwestern, we got kids all over the country. I really do. On Saturdays, we try to watch our kids that are playing, and then we grew up Dallas Cowboys fans on Sundays, and then I got a couple of former players that are in the NFL still. Garrett Gilbert from Lake Travis is with the Panthers now, and then a kid I coached at Stephenville, Cody Davis, plays for the Rams. So I pay special attention to the kids that I’ve had the opportunity to know and coach.
TEXASHSFOOTBALL.COM: Special teams is often an overlooked part of the game, yet Bill Belichick is always preaching it, the Patriots finish among the top special teams units in the league every year, and wouldn’t you know, but New England is always among the last teams standing at the end of the season. How important do you think special teams is? And who are the guys that will be playing those roles for y’all this year?
COACH CARTER: We have a unique weapon in Cameron Dicker, our kicker and our punter. I think he’s as good as anybody in the country. He’s shown that he can make big kicks and big punts under pressure situations. We feel really good about that. In our return game, we graduated Cade Green and Carson Pepe, guys that were big in our return game for us a year ago. It’ll be a host of kids that are going to be out there vying for those spots. Nathan Parodi and Garrett Wilson are a couple kids that I know will be in the mix there. We have to play all three sides of the football: Offense, defense and special teams. We talk about that a lot here at Lake Travis. I think that’s been a big part of our success and if we’re to be successful next year we’re going to have to have a good special teams unit as well.