Football faces changes to coaching, quarterbacks and district competition


LBJ football team puts up their "Js" after a close fourth quarter victory over past-state runner-up La Vega Highschool with a score of 20-17. photo courtesy of Becky Gdula

Trevor Anderson and Elan McMinn

Tragedy struck the LBJ Football community in late 2017 with the passing of former head coach Andrew Jackson. Now, current head coach Jahmal Fenner has stepped up to command the team. He stated that changes to the coaching staff, coupled with changes to the district scheduling have proved a challenge for the Jaguars, but not an insurmountable one.

District changes this year include the addition of two new teams to the football bracket. Fenner thinks that the new additions of Dripping Springs High School and Seguin High School for football will make the team immensely more competitive and will sharpen them for playoffs.

“I think it makes it more competitive, you know, Drip and Seguin,” Fenner said. “They have pretty good teams, and it just adds to our district. I think it makes the district stronger: just more competitive.”

LASA senior and varsity wide receiver Nathan Reed thinks that Dripping Springs is a good opportunity for a rematch, as the Jags lost to them in the first round of last year’s playoffs. He thinks that a difficult schedule will make the team better.

“Coach Fenner purposely made our schedule difficult by putting in games like Los Fresnos and La Vega so we can play against better talent and overcome adversity,” Reed said. “We have the talent and we are playing together as a family this year, which is a key to success.”

Transitions within the team have been an adjustment for everyone, according to Fenner, but the players and coaches have been handling it well and are becoming like a family.

“Changing things hasn’t been difficult,” Fenner said. “I would say that the kids have responded well. We haven’t changed much, but there’s just minor things that we kinda look at; but the kids have been responding well.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the annual game against LASA rival McCallum. LASA junior and varsity linebacker Walker Kohler is especially excited for what he considers to be the biggest game of the year.

“I’m looking forward to the McCallum game,” Kohler said. “Anytime we play McCallum it’s just [a] special week and a special game. And especially after last year I would love to get back at them by smacking them.”

According to Kohler, McCallum will not be the biggest challenge for the Jaguars this year; a new opponent poses a distinct test for the team.

“Our toughest opponent will be Dripping Springs,” Kohler said. “However, they are a completely different team then they were last year. I expect to host them at Nelson in front of our entire school and get the win. This will be especially sweet after last year.”

In order to be prepared for Dripping Springs, the team must first get through a tough gauntlet of both district and non-district teams, according to Reed. He said the season opener in Elgin was an eye-opener. But it wasn’t for nothing, as he thinks the team came away with some valuable lessons.

“Our [first] game we gave up a 28 point lead,” Reed said. “We got comfortable towards the end of the game and things got sloppy, they gained all of the momentum and were able to comeback. But I think that the trip made the whole team a stronger unit and a family, spending 3 nights with those boys bonded us. Additionally, we needed something like that to happen, for us to lose in that fashion is a slap in the face and helps us improve a major issue. Los Fresnos normally goes 3 or 4 rounds deep and loses against Lake Travis. For 3 quarters and 2 drives we were playing an extremely high level and if we can do that the whole game we will be a force to be reckoned with.”

Fenner sees room for further improvement and growth, both on the field and as a family.

“I think we have a lot to improve,” Fenner said. “We had a lot of mental mistakes, we had a lot of penalties. We kinda started the game slow; I think it would’ve been the first game and the excitement, our kids just kinda had the jitters. I’m just looking for them to settle into the game a lot earlier. I think as a coaching staff, where you have five new coaches, we’re still trying to build a chemistry and a bond on the sidelines, and management of the game, so there’s a lot of areas where we’re trying to improve and we’re trying to approach those this week.”

The team is younger, with only 12 seniors on the roster. While some may see this as a potential drawback, Fenner thinks that having young talent will allow younger players to make big plays and prove themselves as leaders.

“I think that we have a few key players that have stepped up and shown that they can make plays in big time games,” Fenner said. “Brian Batts, he’s one of those guys, LaTrell McCutchin, Aundoy Johnson, LaTrell Stephenson, Devin Jones, Shelby Medrano- those are a few of the guys that come right to my mind.”

Though the players are young, Fenner has high expectations and high hopes for his team.

“For the players, it’s just to play as a team, to be unselfish, don’t think about themselves, and just buy into the whole mentality of ‘you know what, we’re all here, fighting for one reason,’ and that’s to make a run at the State Championships,” Fenner said. “So that’s really what I’m looking for; I mean we’re focusing on character and discipline and all of those things, and like I said, they’re doing well.”

Unity is a big point for the team this season. According to Kohler, the team’s biggest enemy is often themselves, and without being unified, they have no chance at going deeper in the playoffs.
“I think our biggest challenge this year is really ourselves,” Kohler said. “ If we don’t beat ourselves, I don’t think anyone can play with us. We are just that type of team. We trust our coaches that they will get us in the right places to compete and we just go out there and have fun. We enter every game like we are playing Dripping Springs or McCallum so we always play to that level of intensity.”

According to Kohler, a successful season is a deep playoff run and a district championship. For Fenner, though, success is something more, especially with a younger team.

“A successful season is progression; you never really know what your limit is as far as when you hit that roof-top,” Fenner said. “So I just feel like game-by-game, progression each week, and we’ll see what happens. Of course a lot of success is determined by wins and losses, and so of course we want to get wins. But I look at the progression of the team and I look at overcoming adversity and so that’s what I determine as success.”