The August midday sun is hot as the Springfield High School football team does bear crawls – running on all fours – back and forth across the practice field for more than 30 minutes. It’s fewer than 24 hours since the Wildcats’ first scrimmage.
“They don’t complain,” coach Maurice Douglass says. “They weren’t expecting to do this today. They thought they were just going to lift weights and get a little jog. They don’t want to to do it. It hurts.”
Douglass is standing in the end zone, but he doesn’t need a megaphone for the players at the other end of the field to hear him.
“Hey! Keep your hands on the ground,” he yells every time he sees a player not doing it right.
Greater attention to detail is an important element Douglass is emphasizing this month as he preps his team for what they all hope is a return to the playoffs. The Wildcats dropped their final game to Fairmont last year to finish 6-4 and miss the playoffs.
“It has sparked an awareness of taking care of every play one game at a time,” Douglass said. “I think last year we were looking so far ahead of trying to get to the playoffs that we didn’t take into account that every game matters.”
This season hinges on a lot. Most notably:
● A consistent running game led by big and in-shape back Tavion Smoot.
● A two-quarterback system with a freshman and senior that takes advantage of a talented group of receivers.
● An aggressive defense.
● Better senior leadership.
Smoot rushed for 271 yards and eight touchdowns last year as a sophomore, but he missed summer workouts because of a broken foot. He wasn’t in the shape he wanted to be in and played as heavy as 253 pounds. As he began to work on reducing his weight after the season, he earned the nickname “Snacks” from Douglass. Smoot is down to 241 and hopes to be at 220 by the end of the season.
“So I can be faster and more elusive and have more agility,” he said.
Douglass intends for Smoot and the speedy Jeff Tolliver to lead the offense while new faces at quarterback bring the balance that will be needed to compete in the difficult GWOC National East against Centerville, Wayne, Fairmont and Beavercreek.
Te’Sean Smoot is a 5-foot-11, 165-pound freshman who is the future of the quarterback position for the Wildcats. He can run and throw, has always played the position and is a coach’s son. His dad, Conley Smoot, coached on Douglass’ staff at Trotwood-Madison and Springfield until this season. Douglass first saw Smoot play as a third-grader.
“I saw that he’s going to be special one of these days,” Douglass said. “He’s a student of the game. They’ve been watching film forever.”
Smoot has speed. He ran on two sprint relay teams at the state middle school track meet in the spring and qualified in the long jump as a seventh-grader. And Douglass already sees a team leader.
“He brings the Russell Wilson factor,” Douglass said. “Russell Wilson’s a tremendous leader and guys follow him and buy in to what he’s selling. Te’Sean brings that same type of thing to our team and it’s contagious.”
While Smoot learns the varsity game, he will share the position with senior Ra’Heim Moss, a 6-foot-4 Division I linebacker prospect who also stars for the Wildcats in basketball.
“Ra’Heim gives you a bigger athlete,” Douglass said. “He gives you the Cam Newton aspect of it when he’s at quarterback.”
Moss will be busy on offense as a member of deep receiving corps when he’s not taking snaps. The Wildcats will show multiple sets and work hard to get the ball to Moss, Minnesota recruit Michael Brown-Stephens , Larry Stephens, Moses Douglass, James Wood, Jordan Howard and Jalen Minney. Brown-Stephens and Stephens combined for 43 catches last year.
The Wildcats return offensive line starters Isaiah Gibson (left tackle), Alex Temple (center) and Trey Harper (right guard). Zierin Exon steps into the right tackle spot and freshman Jokell Brown (6-0, 270) will be the left guard.
Moses Douglass will be a third-year starter at safety. He has committed to Kentucky, so his focus is on the field and being a team leader on both sides of the ball for the first time.
“You gotta do what you gotta do to win,” he said. “I’ve never had a problem with catching the ball or blocking so I’m just going to buy in and do what you gotta do so we can win.”
The Wildcats have experience and depth throughout the defense. The line will rotate seven players and have a luxury of depth not many teams have. Leonard Taylor, who is at Cincinnati now, is the only lineman not returning.
Exon, Gibson, Tyrone Biles and Te’Vion Gilbreth are ends. James Kelly is a nose guard. Gibson will play collegiately in the Big Ten or Southeastern Conference. The 6-foot-4, 298-pounder released a final list of seven schools (Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Florida and Georgia) he is considering. Gibson plans to commit Sept. 19.
The defensive line group is backed by a linebacking corps led by pass rushers Moss and CJ McDavid on the outside. Moss has offers from Cincinnati, Kentucky and most of the Mid-American Conference schools. McDavid has offers from Bowling Green and Eastern Kentucky.
The inside linebackers are returning starter Xzerious Stinnett, Zack Breslin and Ryan Crawford. Douglass leads the secondary and is joined by Minney at safety and Brown-Stephens and Craig Sherrock at cornerback.
“I like what I’ve seen on defense so far,” Maurice Douglass said. “We’re going to hustle, we’re going to attack, we’re not going to give a quarterback long.”
Douglass has seen the senior class grow up from middle school. He said they’ve always had talent but had to overcome playing as individuals. And now they have a good line to play behind on offense.
“It’s my favorite one since I’ve been here just because I’ve seen how far they’ve come,” he said.
Leadership will be just as important as their ability to execute and make big plays.
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“I feel like we’re in a good position to make it deep this year,” Moses Douglass said. “We’ve got a good team this year, good chemistry, we all know what we need to do. Our leaders are setting better examples than last year.”