Return to practice could signal De Lira's return vs. Del Valle
Lake Travis returns to action Friday night following a bye week of self-reflection and improvement.
As the Cavaliers welcome alumni back to campus for Homecoming against Del Valle, head coach Hank Carter said the week off proved productive. Through three games, Lake Travis hadn’t yet clicked – especially defensively – for a full 48 minutes, and the coach hopes that the work done without a game will pay off against the Cardinals.
“We concentrated on ourselves,” Carter said. “We went against each other offense-defense-wise a little bit more than we would in a normal week. It got us a chance to slow down a little bit and take time to really coach some things that normally during the week we might hit on but not be able to spend as much time on.”
While Carter’s eyes have been on the defense, seemingly everyone else’s have been on the quarterback position, where sophomore Charlie Brewer has started in place of senior Dominic De Lira, who’s been sidelined due to an off-field incident. While De Lira did practice during the week leading up to each of the first three games, he worked very little with the starting offense and did not attend any of the team’s games.
Last week, as he’s done throughout August and September, Carter would not comment on any individual player’s status, specifically on when De Lira might return to the lineup. He has, however, indicated that Iowa State-bound De Lira will return.
When that happens, Carter and offensive coordinator Michael Wall face a tough question: do they play the talented senior with playoff experience or the sophomore who’s won two of his first three starts and gotten better each week with his grasp and execution of the offense?
Carter said the players will decide for him.
“The kids decide who plays,” he said. “It’s by who’s performing. Depending on who’s available at that time, we’ll evaluate it and we’re going to put the guy out there who gives us the best opportunity to win.”
Brewer’s completed 57 percent of his passes for 746 yards with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions in De Lira’s absence. Though still acclimating to varsity football, Brewer’s improved the pace at which the offense runs and his decision-making each week.
“I still think, after looking at the tape, that Charlie’s improved,” Carter said following a 62-23 win at Hays in which an early interception led to a Rebel touchdown. “Our offense played at a faster pace, which has a lot to do with how he’s getting us going, and I think his decision making, when it came to where the football goes and the timing of it, was good.”
De Lira has been out of sight, out of mind for many Cavalier fans, who might implore the coach not to mess with a good thing. Brewer’s playing well and the offense is scoring points, and the young quarterback’s given them every reason to believe that he’ll continue grow into the other quarterbacks in his family tree, including Michael, who’s now starting at Virginia Tech. The coaches see that point as well. They can see Brewer as Lake Travis’ quarterback of the future.
“We know he’s going to be around for a long time and we’re excited about that,” Carter said following Brewer’s 322-yard, four touchdown, no interception performance at Copperas Cove. They also aren’t ready to concede that the future starts now.
“When Dom comes back it will work itself out,” Carter said. “We don’t know exactly how it will, but we also know that Dom is a heck of a talent. He’s a special player.”
De Lira earned District 15-5A Newcomer of the Year honors in 2013 after quarterbacking the Cavaliers to another district title. In an offense that relied on Shaun Nixon for its big plays, De Lira managed things well and grew more comfortable as the season progressed, playing some of his best football in the playoffs, where he helped lead the Cavaliers to a 5A, Division II semifinal berth. He passed for 2,356 yards with 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions, half of which came in the first two games.
Throughout the fall, knowing that De Lira will return, Carter has maintained that the competition for the quarterback job takes place each day at practice, just like it does with every other position. While Brewer has played well thus far, if coaches get the sense that De Lira can make the offense even more effective, then they won’t hesitate to make the change.
“We tell our kids that any way we can get 1 percent better, 2 percent better, 20 percent better, we’re going to look to do that,” Carter said last week. “Whether that means moving guys around or playing this guy in front of the other one, our job as coaches – the kids have entrusted us – is to put the best product on the field. So that’s what we’ll do.”
While Brewer and Kevin Hathaway have taken the bulk of those reps for the season’s first month, De Lira began taking reps with the first team during the bye week. Carter said the senior must gain some confidence executing Wall’s new offense as his return to the lineup approaches, whenever that happens.
“I do think that over the weeks of the season Dom has continued to gain confidence with that,” Carter said Tuesday. “Early on he wasn’t getting near the reps that the other guys were, but we know that he’s a really good player. We expect that when it’s time for him to play that he’ll show the same type of ability he has in the past. He’s a good football player.”
Whether De Lira’s reintroduction comes Friday against Del Valle or in subsequent weeks against Lehman, Anderson or Austin High, Carter and Wall will want their quarterback – whoever it is – to be clicking on all cylinders by Oct. 24. That’s when Westlake comes to Lake Travis for the annual Battle of the Lakes. In the interim, both quarterbacks should get plenty of opportunities to show their stuff – or reintroduce themselves – as the case may be.