Coaches put early focus on efficiency, eliminating penalties

For the first time since 2006, the Lake Travis Cavaliers didn’t gather on the field in Cowboys (AT&T) Stadium and celebrate a state championship.

What those who watched now-junior receiver Grant Foster’s foot touch down on the back line of the south end zone at Georgetown’s Birkelbach Field as time expired against Pflugerville last November want more than anything is to get that image out of their minds, to replace it with something fresh, something positive. Coaches and players have learned valuable lessons from the frustration of last season, and while they’ve closed the book on the year that was, they hope to use those lessons to make sure 2013 doesn’t bring more frustration.

“We’ve had a million workouts since then,” head coach Hank Carter said during the first week of fall practice. “The kids are ready to go out there and to just go play again and start working getting into our routine and preparing for an opponent. I don’t think the kids are thinking much about last season. We’re not trying to harp on the loss in the playoffs. We’re wanting to talk about making sure that doesn’t happen anymore, and it happened because we didn’t play our style of football.”

They may not be dwelling on what happened or the way the season ended, but they remember it for sure, and what has lingered since that night has driven them as they prep for the coming season.

“The thing that drives us the most is the result of last season,” said senior safety Luke Hutton, “because people think we’re not going to be as good. I feel like we’re going to come out and prove everyone wrong, every single person that’s doubted us is going to be wrong.”

If the Cavaliers are to accomplish Hutton’s goal, they’ll need to fix several issues that plagued the team in 2012. In his matter-of-fact style, Carter said his injury-plagued Lake Travis team simply made too many mistakes – both mental and physical – to beat a good, athletic team in the playoffs.

“Let’s say nobody got hurt,” Carter said last week. “We still did not have the type of a pass rush where we could get an athletic quarterback on the ground. That’s what ended up costing us in the Pflugerville game.”

Senior Zach Davies led the team with 9.5 sacks, but overall the team averaged less than three sacks per game. Carter said letting the opposing quarterbacks out of trouble extended plays and put more pressure on the defense.

“In years’ past we had a little bit more depth at those positions and were able to get the quarterbacks down, and we just didn’t have that last year,” Carter said.

If the defensive line had its challenges, so did the offensive unit, though for a myriad of reasons. The Cavaliers used at least 10 different offensive linemen throughout the season, and while a positive can be the experience gained by those returning, the challenge became keeping everyone on the same page at the snap. Week after week, the Cavaliers suffered through an inordinate number of procedure and false start flags. Things came to a head against in that playoff game, when the team incurred 10 five-yard flags.

“That was something that was very near the top of the list as we went into spring meetings,” Carter said. “We can’t beat ourselves. You can’t give somebody a five-yard head start at you and that’s what that is. They worked on it throughout the spring and it seems like we’ve got it fixed. It’s hard enough to get 10 yards, let alone 15.”

Address those issues, and Lake Travis should be in the thick of things again. With Hutton, Davies and five other starters back from an otherwise stingy defense – Lake Travis allowed 20 points in a game only three times – and explosive Texas A&M-bound running back Shaun Nixon (1,200 rushing, receiving yards and 14 combined TDs in seven games) back to lead a traditionally high-scoring offense, a longer playoff run could very well be in the offing.

“I don’t think we’re approaching things much differently other than reiterating to our kids that we have what it takes to win a state championship,” Carter explained. “That being said, we’re not too good that we can’t lose a game if we don’t play to our ability.”