Guyer coach John Walsh has never been one to shy away from a tough nondistrict schedule.
The same can be said for Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire.
Since meeting in the second game of the 2010 season as part of the Kirk Herbstreit Kickoff Classic at AT&T Stadium, the teams have met three more times, and tonight to kick off the 2013 season, they’ll make it five meetings in four seasons.
“I like their brand of football because it mirrors ours,” said Walsh, who worked with McGuire as assistant coaches at the Under Armour All-America Game after the 2009 season. “It’s physical. A lot of the teams out that way are all about speed, but they have speed and they hit you in the mouth. It’s a great test for us to get ready for the [district] season.”
In 2010, Cedar Hill nipped Guyer in an overtime thriller in nondistrict play — Guyer’s first game against a Class 5A program. Later that season, the Wildcats knocked Cedar Hill out of the playoffs en route to the Class 5A Division II state championship game. The following season, in quarterback Jerrod Heard’s second career start, the Longhorns beat Guyer in a relatively low-scoring game. Last year’s season-opening meeting was anything but that, as the Longhorns defeated Guyer 54-28 after they blew open a close game in the second half.
“[Defensive coordinator] coach [Derek] Ramsey has been harping on us about that,” senior defensive end Thomas Ferguson said. “We want to have a banner defensive year. We weren’t that last year, and [today] is our chance to make a statement and show people what we plan to be all year.”
Despite not being at their best defensively throughout the 2012 season, the Wildcats rebounded from an 0-2 start in which they gave up a combined 108 points to reel off 14 straight wins en route to a Class 4A Division I state championship. Cedar Hill recovered from a 1-3 start to march all the way to the Class 5A Division II final, where it lost 35-24 to Katy.
Heard said that knowing today is his last chance to notch a victory over the Longhorns is some added motivation, especially given the magnitude of the matchup, despite the game being for nothing but bragging rights.
“You hear about Cedar Hill everywhere nationally, so it’s definitely a fun rivalry and a game that’s always going to be big-time,” said Heard, a senior who has committed to Texas. “Every time we play them I want to beat them, so it’s a must this year. It’s my last year playing. I want to get them once.”
To do that, Heard and Guyer’s explosive offense will have to navigate their way through a Cedar Hill defense that returns seven starters from last season’s state finalist squad, including cornerback Marcus Green, defensive end Xavier Washington and an excellent corps of linebackers led by Doveon Dillard.
“They just have that unique mixture,” Walsh said of Cedar Hill’s linebackers. “Their linebackers are fun to watch on film. They fly around everywhere, and when they get there, they try to make pads fly off. They’re fun to watch. When they bring it, it’s really fun to watch.”
The Wildcats lived off their running game last season, amassing 5,137 rushing yards over 16 games while averaging 8.3 yards per carry. This year, Walsh said, he plans on opening up the passing game more with Heard’s throwing, which he improved over the summer. To beat Cedar Hill, he knows he’ll have to do that.
“We’ll have to mix it up against this group,” Walsh said. “We’re still a run-first team, but we’ll have to mix it up to move the ball against these guys because their front seven is going to be hard to just come right at constantly.”
Whether it’s running or passing, the Guyer offense will have to excel shorthanded with only one returning starter on the offensive line set to play in guard Hunter Krastin. Bryan Barrett, the returning starter at left tackle, will miss the game with an injury, as will tight end Jonathan Pershall and fullback Nate Maki.
That means newcomers Kyle Jaskulske (center), Jordan Thompson (guard), Jerod Fritsch (left tackle) and converted tight end Kyle Soltero (right tackle) will have to be successful against arguably the best front seven Guyer’s offense will face this season.
“Against Aledo [in Friday’s scrimmage] they did some mental stuff wrong but physically they were fine, and that’s a great front seven that Aledo has,” Walsh said. “Usually at this point in the season you’re wondering if they’ll be physical enough, but I was really pleased with them physically.”
Even though Heard possibly could fall to 0-3 against the Longhorns by the time tonight’s game is over — and he is set to be a Texas Longhorn at this time next year — Walsh said he fully expects the two teams to continue their recent rivalry with next year’s biennial realignment. Guyer already has committed to play 2012 Class 5A Division I champion Allen to open the 2014 season.
“I know [McGuire] well, and I know how he approaches the game and he knows how we approach it,” Walsh said. “We’re both aggressive and we’re both winning programs, and that will always initiate a rivalry.
“It’s real respectful; we’ve never had any [penalty] problems. It’s been a good game to watch. I don’t see us not playing [in the future], because it’s such a good game for both of us. Nothing’s in stone, but I’d bet money on it that we’re still going to play.”