By Moses Leos III
There’s a sense of purpose around the Hays High Rebel camp this summer, perhaps a sense not felt in some time.
For the past two years, Hays was considered district title contenders in 27-4A. That’s not the case in its new home of 14-6A, where the Rebels are projected to finish near the middle of the pack.
It’s a slight the Rebels don’t take lightly, and it’s one that’s galvanized the team as they head into their season opener on Aug. 29.
“A lot of people think we can’t compete in this district. Everyone saying we aren’t going to do anything has fired us up,” senior offensive lineman Connor Lanfear said. “We are going to go out there on Friday night, fly around, hit some people and prove them wrong.”
That aggressive attitude has bolstered the first week of practice. Head coach Neal LaHue, who begins his second season on the sideline, said the team returned in good shape, leading to continued progress.
It’s evident on both sides of the ball, as Hays tries to replace a strong senior class from a year ago.
“The team as a whole is progressing like we want,” LaHue said.
Filling the vacancy left at quarterback is top priority for Hays. Stepping in is junior Braeden Kent, who has taken much of the snaps with the first team. Behind him are junior Trey Dickerson and sophomore Jacob Zamora.
Starting on varsity is a different world for Kent, who played junior varsity just a year ago. Kent admitted the first day was “a little intimidating,” but said he and his fellow quarterbacks got used to it.
“It’s a lot more difficult. Going up against the first team varsity defense is high tempo stuff,” Kent said. “I’m getting the hang of it pretty quick.”
Helping are a stable of running backs, led by junior Cody Gandy. Also providing assistance is senior Jackson Effiom, who transferred from Hyde Park.
Like his quarterback counterparts, Effiom also had to quickly learn the high tempo offense – a change from the Wing T he was used to.
“I was scared I wouldn’t be able to get everything, but I caught on quick,” Effiom said. “It’s been fun.”
Senior leadership has played a role in pushing the Rebels forward. Offensive linemen Connor Lanfear and Mateo Mendoza have taken up the task on offense, helping coaches by giving “pointers” to the newer linemen.
It’s the defense that has worked the hardest this summer. With only four starters returning, many new elements will see the field.
While the Rebels must find replacements on the defensive line, LaHue said he feels “good about our linebackers and secondary.”
Giving that assistance is senior linebackers Emory Cuzze and Kendall Stovall and senior defensive back Joseph Rubio.
Cuzze said learning and understanding the defense continues, but it’s strengthened by the intelligence of the newer players. Safety Josh Saucedo, defensive end Jordan Smith and linebacker Preston Ellison could make a difference.
They will work on matching the speed they’ll see in opposing offenses in district play.
“Everyone we play will have speed,” Cuzze said. “We have to learn how to play against it. That will be our biggest challenge.”
Preparing for week one will be the goal for the Rebels in a scrimmage against Pflugerville Hendrickson next Friday. It’s all part of their goal to prove people wrong.
“A lot of people think we are underdogs,” Kent said. “If we play like we’re supposed to, we’re a team to beat.”