The stadium may be finished and the field ready for play but this year’s Overton Mustangs still have a lot of work to do.
“Having a field is a nice change,” joked head coach/athletic director Arthur “Bo” Talkington. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to do in going from where we are to where we need to be.”
That work is hampered by the loss of six starters to graduation, as well as losing six returning seniors who chose to focus on baseball.
“At a small school like ours every player is important, especially when it’s a returning starter and even more when it’s a senior,” Talkington admitted. “But we’ve got about 30 young men that are working hard to help rebuild this program and those are the athletes I’m focused on right now.”
With seven seniors remaining, only three of whom saw playing time in 2010, Talkington has his work cut out for him in a competitive district.
“There are some strong teams in our district, and we aim to be competitive,” he added.
“McCasland’s an important part of out team, on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We’re going to mix it up with him and [junior quarterback] K.J. Luster under center, moving A.J. around to some different spots to take advantage of his athletic abilities.”
“We’re seeing some step up into leadership positions, which is important,” Talkington said. “But we’re also waiting for a few others to come along as the season progresses.”
Some of the young upstarts expected to shine are sophomore halfbacks Dacorian Ford and Jamal Kelly (6’1″ 223-pounds), as well as linemen Weston Gillis and Brayden Hankins. Sophomores T.J. Lewis and Aden Williams were also thrust into action late last year due to injuries and will have to play above their experience in starting roles.
“Every position has to be earned every day,” Talkington said. “We can’t afford to have anyone coast or go half-speed […] everyone’s got to work hard for us to get better as a team.”
All the same, Talkington dismisses any notion of a “youth movement” on this year’s team, explaining that he has juniors and sophomores that have had considerable playing time since their freshman year.
“Right now we’re looking for players who are focused, who are learning and continuing to push themselves,” he said. “By Friday night we expect to put our best 11 players on both sides of the ball and play hard for four quarters.”
Overton is picked last or next to last by almost every media outlet, but Talkington says it’s almost impossible to predict what might happen in a football season.
“It’s really not something we’re following or paying attention to, I know it’s fun to predict what you think might happen but it’s not something that affects our players either way,” he said. “We’re not going into the season resigned to finish last or trying to prove anything to anyone, we’re working toward getting better with each practice each week and preparing for one game at a time.”
Overton starts the season Friday night with a test against Class 1A powerhouse Cayuga at home. While not the same Wildcat team without current Longhorn fullback Traylon Shead and A&M wideout Malcome Kennedy, Talkington said it is still a quality program.
“You have a team with players that had that kind of experience as underclassmen, so you know they know how to win in big games,” he said. “So we’re looking forward to a big test right away to help see where we are and where we’ve got to go.”
Following another home stand against Class 2A Union Grove, the Mustangs travel to Rusk County rival Mount Enterprise.
“They’ve got some good young players and they had an impressive playoff run,” Talkington said. “It’s always a competitive game.”
Though working in private business in recent years, Talkington’s return to coaching felt perfectly natural to him.
“You see different trends and formations come and go over the years but, in the end, the game is still the same,” he said.
“It’s still about working hard, knowing what you’re supposed to do, and doing it when an opportunity arise.”