Propagating timber bamboo is how Denton head coach Kevin Atkinson sees the growth of his football team and with today’s spring game celebrating the Broncos development; it’s also time to see some tangible maturation.
“We’ve made a correlation between our team and timber bamboo,” Atkinson said. “You have to water timber bamboo and fertilize it for three years and after the third year, it will finally break the ground. When it does, it can grow up to 20 inches a day until its 90-foot tall. Now it’s time for that bamboo to start growing.”
While the Broncos have plenty of positions that have seen their share of progress, the defense has seen its foundation revamped, changing to a different formation to fit the talent’s vivacious athleticism. Today’s game at 7 p.m. at Bronco Field will be an opportunity to work out some of the kinks.
“We’ve been working on some different areas,” Atkinson said. “At the same time, we’re trying to give our defense a good look. We’re putting in a new defense. So we’ve had to give them a good look, too. I usually try to focus on those opponents, but this year we had to teach the defense a lot of things. We’re a little more athletic and I kind of wanted to base out of a four-down lineman [set] instead of three and use our athleticism.”
Switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 basic defense, Atkinson likens the formation to a 4-2-5 with speed at the root of the defense’s success.
“Dailon Holmes and Adam Bershell, up front they’ve really stood out,” Atkinson said. “Hayden Gray has been playing inside spots for us and doing a good job and so has Dustin Bright. Gabriel Aranda had a good spring in the secondary as well as Juan Campos. Those corners have worked hard.”
With the start of the regular season a few months away, Atkinson said he’s not trying to overload anyone, but he’s emphasizing the fast nature of the game more than anything.
“We felt like the system we’ve turned to can really help us enhance what we already do well, and we can run pretty well,” Atkinson said. “We want to be up tempo on defense and really rally to the football, be physical and cause turnovers. We had some turnovers last year, but really we just need to utilize the athleticism that we have.”
Working on his mechanics in the pocket, senior quarterback Christian Rodriguez is using his leadership to motivate his teammates. He looks to be embracing the starting role after splitting duties with Cy Ward last season before winning out the majority of the playing time in the second half of the season.
“He’s just been great,” Atkinson said. “He’s been very coachable and he’s shown a lot of leadership out on the field. He’s worked on his pocket mechanics getting out of the pocket and avoiding rushes. He’s worked on his quick release. He’s got to be dynamic in the pocket because he’s 5-[foot]-8, so it’s not like he’s towering over the offensive lineman. He’s pretty short, so he’s got to maneuver around and find some throwing lanes.”
Also, the bulk of the offensive line returns from last season, with sophomore Xavier Scott carrying the load at the running back position and senior receiver Key’andre Hearvey returning as the team’s top pass-catching threat — a position that still has some ironing out to do at the depth ranks after losing three productive seniors.
“He’s had a dynamic spring,” Atkinson said of Hearvey. “He’s really been a good leader out there. [Receiver] Emerson Espinoza came out late and he’s had a good spring. We’ve also had some youngsters come on that we’re excited about.”
More than anything though, Atkinson is just glad his team is healthy.
“We’ve had a physical spring and this is a time that we are more physical than any other time of the year,” Atkinson said. “The work is put in, but really I look forward to it because our kids enjoy it. It’s a fun time. It’s a celebration time that we’ve put in the hard work.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.