HECTOR — There is a stronger sense of familiarity and continuity when it comes to football in Hector these days.
Second-year coach Mark Taylor and his Wildcats are now “speaking the same language,” as the coach put it, after learning a new system from a new staff last season. Hector finished 6-5 in 2012, but an increase in numbers and a heavy group of seniors are expected to help the Wildcats claw their way to higher heights this time around.
“Now that we’ve had a year to put our system in, the guys are used to what I say and what all our coaches say,” Taylor said. “There’s a huge difference from year 1 to year 2, and I think that could lead to more success this season.”
Hector has 12 seniors on its 29-man roster. Having that number of players and the progress he’s seen during the offseason and preseason has Taylor feeling optimistic.
“Our numbers are good,” Taylor said. “We feel really good about that, especially for 2A football. We had a great summer and really started picking things up after we got the pads on.”
Still, if Hector is to make some noise in the 4-2A Conference, then keeping players off the injured list will be critical.
“We don’t have a whole lot of depth,” Taylor said. “Our biggest challenge is going to be staying healthy and keeping focused.”
Taylor said the biggest focus in 2012 was getting to the postseason, and with that achievement under the Wildcats’ belt, their attention has turned to winning the conference.
Standing in the way will most notably be Hackett and Mountainburg. Playing those games at home is something Taylor hopes will give Hector favorable chances of climbing past those rival teams.
“Hackett and Mountainburg have been the class of the conference the last few years,” Taylor said. “Those will be our biggest games.
“Our chances of winning the conference will be determined by if we’ve closed the gap enough on Hackett and Mountainburg.”
Helping lead the charge will be a freshman, as ninth-grade quarterback Tanner Gaines leads the Wildcat offense. He’ll have some good experience with him in the backfield in senior Gus Nichols, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards last season, and junior Tyler Brashears will carry the bulk of the load at running back.
Hector also has an experienced offensive line, led by senior center Chris Poole, who is “kind of the quarterback of the O line,” Taylor said.
The Wildcats were long known for running a Dead-T offense, but that changed with Taylor at the helm. Hector now looks to a more balanced offense, which includes a stronger unit than 2012’s group. The passing game, though, isn’t as far along as the rushing attack.
“We don’t have a lot of experience at the wide receiver position,” Taylor said. “We’ve got some good players, but we don’t have many who have Friday-night experience yet.”
Linebackers Daniel Lott and Colton Foster will help pace the Wildcat defense. Taylor also called tackle Karson Lee “real explosive.”
“Our defense is a real attack defense,” Taylor said. “It’s a real risk-taking group. We’re capable of being a good defense. Hopefully, we can play up to that potential.”
Lots of changes have occurred since the new coaching staff has come on board. Now, Taylor hopes his team, who “plays hard and likes to have fun,” can make changes in postseason success as well.