Right now it is hard to imagine a program more “behind the eight ball” than the Overton High School varsity football team going into the 2010 season.
Whether it’s the early injuries to key two-way starters on the Mustang depth chart or the difficult practice conditions, Overton just can’t seem to catch a break.
The Mustangs are currently practicing out in left field of the softball complex as their field undergoes extensive renovations. As of this reporting, the home opener comes at the halfway point of the season, when OHS will host Big Sandy for their homecoming game on Oct. 15.
While they might just be the only football program in the entire state of Texas that does not have its own functional playing field, you’ll hear no excuses from the Mustangs head coach/athletic director Arthur “Bo” Talkington.
“Sure, every day is a challenge, but our kids are rising to the occasion and have been working really hard,” he said. “Conditions are tough and there’s a lot of adjustments being made and still to be made […] they’ve been making steady progress since day one.”
Following a disappointing 3-7 campaign in 2009 where they finished second to last-place in District play, both Dave Campbell’s Texas Football and The Old Coach’s Friday Night Football magazines have Overton tabbed for last and next-to-last respectively.
Combined with the graduation of a large senior class with several two- and three-year starters, including leading rushers John Michael Florey, Telvin Darden, and Casey Rinehart, low expectations surround the Mustangs
But inside the huddle, it’s a different story.
“We’ve talked about it, and these guys aren’t lying to themselves, they’re aware that they’re still a young team with a lot of strikes against them,” Talkington said. “But our goal is to take it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a game, and continue to get better.”
The pre-district schedule offers a solid proving ground for District 9-1A competition, with match-ups against returning Class 1A state champs Cayuga in addition to 2A foes Sabine and Union Grove.
“You can’t lie to the kids about their chances but you don’t just throw in the towel either,” he said. “What said in magazines or on the radio is for the fans, what happens on the field is up to the players […] so we’ve got work hard and stay at it until the final whistle of the final game.”
While the installation of Talkington’s “Run & Shoot” offense and 5-2 defense has forced some of his players to learn new positions, or re-learn old one, he has been impressed with their hard work and commitment to improving day-in and day-out.
“This is not something that’s done overnight,” he said. “This is going to be every day and ongoing throughout the season.”
Leading the Mustang offense will be junior signal-caller Austin McCasland, left, with talented sophomore K.J. Luster getting snaps at quarterback as well.
Spencer Wright and Dalton Jeffers return as wideouts for the Overton aerial assault, with Zachary Hennington, Alex Meadows and Tim Hawkins rounding out the receiving corps.
Returning lettermen expected to carry the ball are fleet halfbacks senior Logan Rhoades and junior Tyler Rhodes, with slashing runners in junior Forrest Lee and sophomore Jesse Roach, as well as punishing senior fullback Shelton Rogers.
Paving the way for the Mustang rushing attack will be senior linemen Levi West, Shaderon “Dae Dae” Slaughter, and Dylan Lantz, with standout underclassmen Greg Moore and Austin Cook also expected to contribute significantly.
The defense continues to take shape with each practice, as Talkington continues to build around the strengths of his players.
“Levi West has been solid on both sides of the ball, we’re liking what we’re seeing out of him,” he said. “We’ve got a variety of guys doing some things well, and others coming along too […] they’re all working hard.”
Shelton Rogers, a senior and three-year all-district selection at defensive end, has impressed coaches with his play at nose tackle.
“On one hand you have players that might’ve been playing three years at one position and now they’re learning the keys and reads of a completely different position, then you have some of the younger guys who you’re teaching to play their position practically from scratch,” Talkington said.
“So each day, is another part of the bigger picture, they’re going to continue to learn and hopefully get better as the season progresses.”
But, once again, external circumstances have hindered progress as the Mustangs have been largely unable to prepare their special teams for the upcoming season because of space constraints.
“Our scrimmages have been excellent opportunities to get out on a field with the actual dimensions of a playing field,” he said. “But it’s something that we’re going to have to continue to adjust and fine tune as the season wears on.”
During his first tenure as Overton head coach from 1981-1988, Talkington was 60-14-1, leading his team to several district championships, undefeated regular seasons, and state playoff appearances but the one person pressuring him to succeed the most is himself.
“Ever since I started coaching in 1973 I’ve felt pressure to succeed, it’s part of the job, it’s part of doing what you do in this profession,” he said. “But I think I put more pressure on myself than anyone else can, because I see the potential, I know what we can accomplish, and so I feel pressure to help these young men fulfill their own potential.”
“It’s one of the main reasons I do what I do,” Talkington added.
The Mustangs open the regular season on Aug. 27 against Cayuga who won a Class 1A state championship in 2009.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium in Bethel.