There’s no denying it – the Blinn Buccaneers went through growing pains in 2012.
Between the end of Summer workouts and the beginning of two-a-day practices, the team lost six starters to Division I football teams that needed to quickly fill roster gaps. Each of those sophomores was replaced by a freshman still learning his way around campus even as he prepared for a Week 1 game against a nationally-ranked opponent and a challenging Southwest Junior College Football Conference schedule.
But now, with a full season under their belts, those wide-eyed freshmen are battle-hardened sophomores, determined to bounce back from a 2-6 season in 2012.
“There’s no question that returning as many sophomores as we are this season will be a big benefit,” head coach Ronny Feldman said. “A prime example is the quarterback position. Garry Kimble was thrown into the fire the first day of two-a-days last year after our sophomore left. It was going to be a year for Garry to redshirt and learn the system, but now that season is behind him and he’s got eight games of experience as a college quarterback. It’s going to make a tremendous difference.”
Kimble completed 84 of 177 passes last season for 1,478 yards and 12 touchdowns, and was the conference’s fourth-leading rusher with 756 yards and six touchdowns on 88 carries. He will be backed up by Kyle Keller, a 6-3, 220-pound freshman from San Antonio Reagan High School, and Logan Vinklarek, a 6-2, 220-pound freshman from La Grange High School.
Kimble will be protected by an offensive line that returns Will Juarez (6-4, 315) and Donovan Williams (6-3, 330) and is bolstered by the addition of Alex Mitchell, a transfer from Fresno City (Calif.) Community College.
“That gives us three guys with playing experience as freshmen who are, in my opinion, Division I offensive linemen,” Feldman said.
Sophomore running back Klartel Claridy (5-10, 217) returns after rushing for 518 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. Freshmen Jericho Worrell (6-0, 200) and Othello Gibson (5-9, 195) are also competing for carries.
The Buccaneers bolstered their receiving corps with a pair of transfer wide receivers. Kameel Jackson (6-0, 205) comes to Blinn from the University of Oklahoma.
“He could be as good a receiver as we’ve ever had here,” Feldman said.
Dean Johnson (6-1, 190) comes to Blinn from Southeastern Louisiana University. Freshman Dy’Kyri Hickey (6-1, 185) has impressed in the preseason and sophomore Dede Westbrook (5-11, 180) returns after catching 12 passes for 428 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.
“He may be the fastest kid we’ve ever had at Blinn,” Feldman said.
Marcus Goodson (6-0, 180), the younger brother of former Texas A&M running back Michael Goodson, lends depth to the receiving unit.
Justin Chandler (6-4, 250) will start at tight end after gaining 40 pounds during the offseason.
“He’s a difference maker,” Feldman said. “He’s got a chance to be special.”
After three seasons as the Buccaneers’ defensive backs coach, Thomas Rocco takes over as the new defensive coordinator. He’ll lead a unit that also returns plenty of talent from last season, beginning with Lance Duran (5-11, 225) and Keil Heidman (6-1, 235) at linebacker.
“Both of those are really, really good football players,” Feldman said.
DaVante Smith (6-2, 330) returns at defensive tackle, while J.J. Lollar, a transfer from Texas Tech, takes the other tackle position.
Kyle Holmes (6-2, 252) is a returning starter at defensive end while freshmen Damon Washington (6-4, 275) Jamikal Potts (6-2, 278) and Darian Childers (6-2, 245) have all impressed. Freshmen Rhomelius Rhone (6-4, 290) and Zach Fattig (6-2, 267) also have a chance to make an impact immediately.
Blinn may have the most depth at defensive back, where University of Kentucky commit Shyquawn Pullium (6-1, 190) returns alongside another Wildcat commit in Ryan Flannigan (6-1, 205). Flannigan was a linebacker for the Buccaneers last season.
“He has the speed to make that transition,” Feldman said.
Myles Curl (6-0, 188) also returns to the Buccaneer defensive backfield. Darrell Jackson (6-5, 215) and Carlos Smith (5-11, 185) will look to make an impact as freshmen.
Tyler Ortwig (5-9, 165) returns at kicker and will be pushed by freshman Will Janosek (5-11, 185). Jacob Mansfield (6-1, 210) will handle the deep snapping duties.
“We have a much better football team right now than we had last year,” Feldman said. “There were some spots last year that when we lost them, it really hurt us.”
The Buccaneers open the season Aug. 24 against Georgia Military in Perkinston, Miss., then host Butler (Kan.) and Southeast Prep before opening conference play Sept. 14 at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
“We know we don’t start off with an easy one,” Feldman said. “We start our season against two programs that are going to be nationally-ranked. We’re going to have our hands full.”