At this point last season, Guyer was coming off an embarrassing season-opening loss and looking to bounce back against another potent Class 5A opponent.
After the Wildcats’ 54-38 loss to Colleyville Heritage dropped them to 0-2, the coaching staff and team leaders had a closed-door meeting following the game at Southlake’s Dragon Stadium and took a long look in the mirror.
After that, the Wildcats reeled off 14 straight wins en route to the Class 4A Division I state championship.
This season, Guyer (0-1) is coming off a loss, though not an embarrassing one, and is heading into a game against a Heritage team looking for its first win after giving up 70 points to Duncanville a week ago.
But instead of getting a full week of preparation for tonight’s game against the Panthers, the Wildcats are working on one day of practice after tragedy struck the program over the weekend with the death of starting fullback Nathan Maki.
“Having one practice before a game is going to be less influential than all the emotion these kids are dealing with,” Guyer coach John Walsh said. “I don’t know what to expect. I’m really not too concerned with what to expect, really. Our kids bonded through this whole thing. We have great leadership, and the leadership we’ve had these last two days — they’re going to figure out a way to get it done.”
Walsh singled out seniors Jerrod Heard, Demontrie Taylor, Thomas Ferguson and Jonathan Pershall, who will make his 2013 debut after missing last week’s game with an injury, as players who have taken a leadership role in the difficult time.
Heard was 12-for-18 for 179 yards and two interceptions deep in Cedar Hill territory in last week’s loss while rushing for 103 yards on 18 carries. He’ll look to bounce back against the Panthers, whose defense struggled against Duncanville, as quarterback Jeremiah Drake put up 435 passing yards and had five touchdown passes against the Panthers.
After starting left tackle Bryan Barrett played sparingly while nursing an injury last week, giving way to backup Jerod Fritsch, the Wildcats will be without both tonight after Fritsch was hit with a back injury out of the blue. That means junior third-string tackle Max Herbig will get the nod, and the Wildcats are still missing starting guard Blake Timmons, who also missed the opener.
“We’re definitely concerned about that spot,” Walsh said. “We were concerned with Fritsch going in because he hadn’t started at left tackle, and he did a magnificent job. He has a game under his belt, but now he can’t go. Herbig is unproven. He played sparingly the other night as a backside tight end, but yeah, that’s a big question mark.”
One spot Walsh isn’t concerned with is his secondary, even after Cedar Hill quarterback Justin McMillan threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats.
Last year, Heritage quarterback Cody Thomas torched the Guyer secondary, but Thomas is gone and has given way to dual-threat quarterback Griffin Pickler.
“What’s different this year is that Cody could run but he didn’t want to run much,” Walsh said. “But this kid [Pickler] is a true dual threat, and that adds a new wrinkle.”
Jordan Wallace made his varsity debut last week against Cedar Hill and, along with fellow new safety Ian Edwards, impressed Walsh, giving him full confidence in his young secondary with two returning starters at cornerback in Trey Woods and Will Sanders.
“I have no concerns about those guys back there,” Walsh said. “Early in the year last year, we had problems with people being wide open because of alignment issues. We had to simplify what we did last year. This year we’re getting lined up, and that’s the main thing. I like our intelligence back there.”
Wallace knows what to expect tonight, and he said he and his teammates are ready for whatever comes their way.
“I’m sure we’ll probably see a lot of deep balls, since we let some by last week,” Wallace said. “We have to stay with our assignments and stay deep. If we’re covering them deep, we expect to see screens and some scrambling, too.”
As for that one practice to prepare for a game just hours after attending Maki’s funeral, Wallace said the emotionally charged Wildcats will be ready to go, even on short work.
“I’m not worried about it,” Wallace said. “Our coaches prepare us really well. They said they met [Monday], and they had a meeting about what our scheme is going to be. I think we’ll be well prepared for this game.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.