June 24, 2003
ABILENE, Texas -
Many people asked the question what is wrong with the Cowboys a year ago. Just that thought in people's mind shows how far the Cowboy football program has come, as the Cowboys went 8-2 and finished third in the conference.
The Cowboys are looking to respond to their "down" season with possibly the most experienced group of talented players since the revival of football in 1990.
HSU has so many weapons on offense the hardest part of the coaching staffs job will be keeping everyone happy with playing time and touches.
The Cowboys return two players on offense that have been tabbed as preseason All-Americans in offensive guard Adam Hernandez and tight end Matt Moskosky. Donta' Hayward returns at running back and gives them a punishing runner that they have not had in the recent past. Joe Lemberg has a chance to move up to second place on the all-time receiving charts for yards and touchdowns and two quarterbacks return that have proven abilities.
Defensively, the Cowboys return a player that has started at least three games at every position. Overall 17 players are on the Cowboy roster that have started a game on defense. Injuries really hampered the secondary a year ago, when 10 different players started games. The good news is most of those players are back and should be healthy. Up front the Cowboys return six players that have started games in the past. The linebacking corps is also deep and talented.
With all of the returning experience there is optimism heading into the fall camp. The Cowboys schedule is loaded with three opponents that are ranked in various preseason polls, including the season-opener at Wis.-Stout, which is ranked as high as No. 11 in some polls.
Here is a look at the Cowboys position-by-position
At Hardin-Simmons the term Alan Wartes means offense. The 14th-year offensive coordinator for the Cowboys has always had good quarterbacks in his system and despite losing All-American Dustin Proctor from the helm the Cowboys will have another good signal caller this fall.
The big question is who will it be?
Travis Jones is back for his senior season and he led the Cowboys to the NCAA Semifinals as a starter in 2000. He broke his throwing wrist in the first game of the 2001 season and took a medical redshirt. In 2002 he was the backup to Proctor, but came off the bench and rescued the Cowboys for a win over Mississippi College and played well when called under center. Jones brings a strong-arm and great knowledge of the offense to the table. He also has the respect of his teammates as he was named as a captain as junior despite not being a starter.
Jones threw for 2,097 yards and 20 touchdowns and completed 58.2 percent of his passes in his season as the starter. He also rushed for 306 yards that season. He split time with Josh McCasland that season.
Sophomore Jordan Neal will also compete for the starting job. Neal, who notched a NCAA all-divisions record for most consecutive completions (27) as a true freshman as a backup in 2001, has all of the tools to be a starter. He was first-team Class 5A all-state as a senior at Abilene Cooper High School and has impressed coaches and teammates with his accuracy and poise in the pocket. He redshirted last season after being pressed into action as a true freshman with Jones' injury. He was 37-for-46 for 408 yards and four TDs and had just one interception in his freshman campaign.
The third player in the quarterback derby is sophomore Josh Howard. Probably the best athlete of the three, Howard has a strong arm and has the ability to take it down and run. He does not have as much command of the offense of the other two, but his athletic ability may be enough for him to see the field. He has also worked at receiver but will make a serious effort on playing time at quarterback in the fall camp. He was 2-for-2 for 38 yards and a touchdown as the third quarterback last season.
The Cowboys will be loaded at running back in the 2003 campaign and junior Donta' Hayward will be the Cowboys' workhorse. Hayward was the starter for the Cowboys going into the season last year and broke his arm in the first game of the season. He did not come back until week nine against McMurry and he played one quarter. He played a half in the season finale at Austin College.
All told Hayward played just five quarters on the season but ran for 196 yards and three touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. The 215-pounder is a load to bring down and has good vision and surprising speed. He will wear down defenses with his punishing running style.
Amos Keith started nine games for the Cowboys last year and had 371 yards on 91 carries and led the running backs with five TDs. He will be back for his sophomore campaign. He gives the Cowboys a breakaway threat.
Dustin Bookhout is a combination of Keith and Hayward. A bigger back he can take the pounding between the tackles and also can get down field when he breaks in the open. He is a good blocker for the Cowboys. He ran for 262 yards on 52 carries last season. He had three touchdowns and has been one of the Cowboys better special teams players in his career.
Junior Lance Moore will be on the field somewhere this season it is just a matter of where. He could possibly move over and play safety or linebacker but will most likely move to running back and he will return kicks. Moore had 36 catches for 471 yards and three touchdowns last season, he also ran the ball 14 times for 130 yards and averaged 21.7 yards on 13 kickoff returns. He has the ability to make things happen in the open field and is great with the ball in his hands.
The Cowboys do not use a lot of two-back sets, but when they do Jake McLean was good for the Cowboys in that situation last year. He was a great blocker on short-yardage situation as well as around the goal line. He and Bookhout are the top candidates to fill a fullback role when it is necessary.
The strength of the team may be in the receiving corps. Joe Lemberg is the leader at split end. He has started 31 games in his career at the spot and had 52 catches for 787 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. He has the potential to be the Cowboys best breakaway threat as well as its top possession receiver. With a good season he will likely become the Cowboys second all-time leading receiver and have the second most touchdowns in school history.
The flanker slot will be manned by one of four people. Jon Williams and Derek Lemaster each saw playing time last season and Lemaster started three games. Williams is one of the fastest receivers in the leagues and has the ability to run past most defensive backs. He caught 12 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown last season. Lemaster caught 11 balls for 178 yards.
Len Williams, a 6-4 target, who redshirted last season and plays on the basketball team and Josh Howard have a chance to play outside. Both are athletic players that will give the Cowboys big targets to throw to. One of the four will play behind Lemberg at split end.
The Cowboys also have Shay Ratliff a transfer from Abilene Christian and a former All-Big Country player at Brownwood coming to the lineup. His speed and play making will get him in the lineup at the slot and he will also return kicks.
Triandos Sherrard played part of the season at running back last season and will likely be used as a slot back this season. He has electrifying speed and tremendous play making ability with the ball in his hands. He rushed for 232 yards and four TDs on just 49 carries. He also caught 13 passes for 170 yards and two more scores and is a perfect option in the Cowboys' five wide receiver set.
The Cowboys must replace three-time All-American Thomas Anderson at center and two-time All-ASC tackle Joseph Williams is also gone, but the Cowboys will return three starters. How quick the Cowboys come along in the preseason and the first few games will go along way in determining the Cowboys' fate for the season.
Adam Hernandez and Garet Black a pair of juniors will anchor down the strong side for the Cowboys. Hernandez, a 5-8, 315-pound guard was an all-south Region selection as a sophomore. Black is getting bigger every year and is up to 260 pounds and continues to grow into his 6-3 frame. The pair gives the Cowboys
Steven Huth will be back as the starter at quick guard and the Cowboys must find two starters. Matt Smith has played center as a backup to Anderson, but that did not get him much game time behind the reliable Anderson. Jarad Hale will also battle for the starters slot at center.
The tackle slot is up for grabs and will be filled by someone who does not have a lot of experience. Andrew Kuehl, Carl Myatt, Richard Perez, Matt Martinez, Lance Unger, Shawn Davis and Jeff Page are all guys that are in the program and have a chance to compete for either a starting or reserve spot along the line.
HSU's best weapon on offense could be tight end Matt Moskosky. With rare size and speed he had 45 catches for 552 yards and six touchdowns last season to earn All-American honors. He has receiver hands and speed and is a tough matchup for linebackers.
Senior James LaFollette gives the Cowboys a bigger blocking tight end. LaFollette has caught just one pass in three years of regular playing time but is a marquee blocker.
After a year were seven starters went down for two games or more the Cowboys have built some incredible depth on the defensive side of the ball. There is a chance that some guys that started a year ago will not even be on the two-deep out of fall camp.
The Cowboys will have one of their biggest defensive lines in years this season, especially at the tackles. Terrence Penns and Eric Shults both started games last year at tackle and they will be joined by 10-game starter Anthony Gonzales on the inside. There is a chance one of the three may move to the outside. Also adding depth on the defensive interior will be Josh Howard and Levi Pate.
The Cowboys return three starters at defensive end. Adam Taylor is back for his senior season after recording 49 tackles, including six for losses a year ago. Toby Nash and Matt Fanning each started five games on the outside. The Cowboys had just 21 sacks as a team a year ago and only 5.5 came from the defensive ends. Scott Bishop is also back on the defensive line.
Linebacker is a position that the Cowboys will have depth to spare. Senior Levi Steele is back on the weak side after a medical redshirt year do to a back injury. Brent Gailey will be back for his second-year as a starter at the strong side. Gailey led the team with 74 tackles. 14 coming for loss and also led the team with five sacks.
The secondary was a position that was hit hardest by injuries a year ago as 10 different players started at some point do to injuries. That depth will be good for the pass-happy American Southwest Conference season. More teams are going to the spread attack the Cowboys have used so well and an abundance of secondary players are necessary.
Leading the way are the cornerbacks. Melvin Dudley is back for his third-season as a starter, after redshirting last year, he gives the Cowboys a lock down corner and Alex Hansen was an All-American a year ago with a school-record nine interceptions and 65 tackles. That combination will give the Cowboys the luxury of doing some things up front with blitz packages that will put more pressure on the quarterback. Devvin Anderson, James Hawthorne and Mitchell Finch are all good athletes that played key roles for the Cowboys in 2002.
Anthony Renfro is backed for his third season as a starter. he will play either free or strong safety after playing both last season and recording 66 tackles. The other safety spot will be up for grabs. Travis Craver is 6-2 and brings a lot of athleticism to the field. He is coming off of a torn ACL last season after starting the year at corner. Rocky McAdams and Ryan Baker will also compete for playing time in the secondary.
The return game was a strength for the Cowboys, as they averaged 10.4 yards per punt return and 21 yards per kickoff return. Clint Pace (29.2 KOR) and Joe Lemberg (11.9 PR) ranked among the conference leaders as kick and punt returners. Lance Moore also returned kicks and averaged 21.7 yards per return. The Cowboys have several speed burners that will return kicks this season. Pace and Moore along with newcomer Shay Ratliff will make it hard for teams to kick away from one player or the other. All have breakaway speed and are shifty in traffic.
The Cowboys have to upgrade the production level out of its kickoff team in the 2003 season. Opponents averaged almost 24.6 yards per kickoff return a year ago and had four return touchdowns. The Cowboys used four different players on kickoffs and each struggled to get the ball in the end zone.
Mason Grimes is back as the primary punter. Dusty Bigham is gone after being consistent on placements, hitting 9-of-12 field goals and 43-of-45 PATs. The Cowboys have several kickers coming to campus in the fall and expect a newcomer to handle kickoffs and place-kicking honors. Grimes averaged 33.1 yards on 35 punts.