At John Tyler’s football practices, white shirts distinguish offensive players while blue tops signify defenders.
Over the last few weeks, striped jerseys — half-blue, half-white — dotted the JT practice field. Credited to JT secondary coach Ricklan Holmes, a two-way standout for the Lions during the 1990s, the multi-colored practice uniforms now identify the multitude of gridders learning offensive and defensive positions as the program tries to compensate for a lower-than-normal body count.
Four of the players in particular participated on both sides last week, seniors Devonte Black (WR/LB) and DeVonte Haggerty (ATH, DB), and juniors Tyus Bowser (DE/WR) and Darion Flowers (WR, DB). The quartet all plays the inside receiver position on offense, in addition to their defensive duties.
JT enters the annual Rose City Showdown with Robert E. Lee on Friday prepared to be without its top two RBs on the depth chart, three key linebackers and a starting CB.
“With the injuries we’re having, we’ve got to step up and take the responsibility of playing both ways,” said Flowers, a starter at slot receiver and cornerback. “If you want to win, that’s what it takes. We have the players on the team that’ll definitely do that.”
The two-way players put in extra time learning offensive and defensive alignments and assignments.
“It’s definitely a big challenge,” said Flowers, who finished with six catches for 92 yards, including a 24-yard TD grab, plus notched four tackles last week against Longview. “You have to know all your routes on offense, all the defensive schemes. And you have to be in shape. If you’re not, you’re going to be really tired.”
Black contributed two catches for 33 yards last week plus made three tackles in JT’s setback to Longview.
“It’s a lot, but you have to fight and do whatever’s best for the team,” said Black, a starter at outside linebacker who rotates at one of the inside receiver sports. “We have to work harder on conditioning.”
Bowser, a starter and defensive end, recorded two tackles along with a 15-yard catch versus Longview.
“Once you start getting in shape, it gets much easier,” said Bowser, the only player with a reception and sack on the year. “It was hard because we lost to a couple of teams we (felt) we should’ve beaten. But those are the best three teams — Longview, Lufkin and DeSoto — we’re (likely) going to play.”
Haggerty ripped off 101 yards of total offense last week, highlighted by a 77-yard TD scamper late on a keeper. He expects to start at running back on Friday after playing wideout and quarterback the first two games.
“I didn’t know if my body would be able to endure all that,” said Haggerty, the team leader with 284 all-purpose yards. “I’m glad coach (Dereck) Rush made us run track. I’m (willing to be) whatever helps us get that ‘W’ at the end of the day.”
The JT offense prospered the first two weeks, scoring on five plays of 60 yards or more and averaging more than 450 yards.
“Offensively we’re pretty good and everyone we play knows we’re good,” Haggerty said. “These last two games it hadn’t been anything major that’s kept us from winning, it’s been little mistakes. Come Friday we’ll have all those kinks out.”
Several players posted eye-popping numbers the first two games, with quarterback Greg Ward throwing for 548 yards and junior receiver Fred Ross recording three TDs averaging 79 yards, among others.
“This is a special group to me; a (high) powered offense,” said Flowers, who leads the team with 14 receptions for 222 yards. “Anybody at any time is capable of scoring a touchdown.”
The defensive effort over the first two weeks created concern, with JT allowing 72 points and eight rushing touchdowns.
“We’re going to be alright,” said Black, one of eight first-year starters on JT’s defense. “We have to fill our gaps and run hard, explode and tackle (whoever has) the ball. We just need to cut down the mistakes and get positive.”
After matching the loss-count for each of the previous two seasons already, JT gained extra motivation for its final non-district game. Not to mention the opponent — cross-town rival Robert E. Lee. JT won last year’s meeting, and looks to beat Lee in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 13 years.
“For seniors it’s different,” Haggerty said of playing Lee. “You don’t want to lose this game and hear about it the rest of your life. As long as we win this game (the other losses) don’t matter.”