ANNA – With six straight wins, last season could not have started any better for the Anna Coyotes. And it couldn’t have ended much worse, with four straight losses and no playoffs – the capper being Princeton’s 29-yard field goal as time expired in the regular-season finale, officially ending Anna’s post-season dreams.
Important factors down that 2016 stretch included an ankle injury to all-purpose star Keelan Crosby and what Coyotes head coach Jason Heath calls a “perfect-storm” one-touchdown loss at Quinlan Ford that started the losing streak.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” Heath said, alluding also to Anna’s move into a district with some bigger schools. “I thought we played well, we competed well. It was disappointing to finish the season on a field goal there at the end, to miss being third in the district.… We’re going to build from that, learn from it.”
Key Anna players lost to graduation include First-Team All-District running back Daunte Rose, the Coyotes’ leading rusher with 1,834 yards and 13 touchdowns; quarterback Lawrence Goade, another First-Teamer, who shared time with Crosby; First-Team All-District linebacker Antonio Barragan, the team’s leading tackler; Anna’s two top receivers — both All-District — Donald Maloid and Steven Lee; Second-Team All-District offensive tackle Dillon Rollins and Honorable Mention center Koy Harris.
Discussion of Anna’s offense starts with Crosby, a potential game-changer whenever he touches the ball. From the quarterback position as a junior last year, Crosby rushed for over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns and threw for 556 yards and three TDs. This, while missing two games with the injury, sharing time at quarterback and earning First-Team All-District honors as a safety on defense.
Heath sees Crosby in multiple roles again this year, from quarterback to receiver to running back. He said that Crosby’s confidence in his ability at QB has grown.
“He knows he doesn’t have to force a throw. A lot of times he can get out of trouble with his feet and make some plays. That’s a big advantage when you’ve got a kid like that back there,” said Heath.
Junior Emmonte Davis will also see time at quarterback, Heath says, adding that the starter has not yet been determined. “Both of those two are great receivers as well.… Whoever’s not playing quarterback will be out there at receiver.”
A crucial question for an offense that rushed for 223 yards per game a year ago is who’ll fill the void left by Rose and, now, big senior Romel Readus, who tore his ACL again this summer and is out for the season. Readus also missed most of last year with the same injury after a promising start.
“It’ll probably be running back by committee,” Heath said. “No one person is going to be carrying the load.”
Potential committee members include seniors Aaron Lee and Josh Abara, sophomore Abner Dubar, junior Nick Reid and junior Jacob Shirah. Expect to see senior defensive end Bubba Jones rumble from the fullback position as well.
Leadership up-front will come from senior guards Jeran Lewis and Jacob Perez — both two-year starters — as well as junior tackle Zach Howard, who now has a season’s-worth of experience. Perez was a Second-Team All-District pick last year, and Lewis and Howard both received Honorable Mention.
Receivers Maloid and Lee are gone, but the Coyotes return a good stable of talent here. “I feel good about the guys we’ve got at receiver,” Heath said. “We had a move-in from McKinney, Mason Williams, who’s going to be a nice addition out there for us. We’ve got Abner Dubar and Emmonte Davis. Keelan can be out there too. I feel good about our depth there.” He added that senior Antonio Moon will also see time here, either as a tight end, H-back or split out wide.
“Defensively, so far, I’ve liked the way we’ve moved around,” Heath said. “Defensive line-wise, we’ve got pretty much all those guys back from last year: Bubba Jones, Josiah Ivery, Blake Tredway. Last year, one of the strengths of our defense was our front guys.” Ivery was a First-Team All-District defensive end in 2016 and Jones was a Second-Team pick at defensive end. Tredway received Honorable Mention at tackle.
“Linebacker-wise, we graduated our two linebackers, Daunte and Antonio [Barragan]. You’ve got two guys there that started for three years and over 30 ball games there. It’s going to be tough replacing them… I think we’ve got some guys that are going to step up and take ownership of that position,” said Heath.
Moon, a returning First-Team All-District selection at outside linebacker last year, will be part of the answer. Others counted on will be seniors King Oke, Julian Mendoza and William Mauldin and junior Trey Cook.
In the secondary, Crosby returns at safety. Roaming with him will be DB veterans Lee and Abara, as well as newcomer Williams.
Back as placekicker is senior Kaleb Stewart who hit on 16-of-19 extra point tries last season and was good on 3-of-3 field goal attempts. Heath says Stewart may also handle punting duties, though others are still in the mix.
The district race, Heath said, should shake out similar to last year, with Paris and Liberty-Eylau again the likely favorites. “It’s a very competitive district. I think it’ll be a very tough race for those third and fourth [playoff] spots.”
And, of course, he added, spots one and two could be in play too should somebody stumble.
To gauge Anna’s 2017 squad early on Heath says fans might look for two things: the number of Coyote defenders around the ball at the end of a play and, offensively, how well the team is able to sustain drives.
“Last year, I thought we were more physical [on defense], we flew around to the ball more than the kids we had in the past,
” said Heath. “Offensively, we’re not looking to have one-play drives — though those are nice, we’ll take them. We want to get four yards — that’s our goal every time we get a snap: four yards per play and not have any losses.”
“Overall,” Heath said, “we’ve probably got more depth [than last year.]. Since I’ve been here, this group coming back has fewer holes that I feel we need to replace - that I’m worried about now. We’ve got some talented kids. I think we’re athletic, I think we’re going to have pretty decent team speed in how we move to the ball. The big thing for us, defensively, is just the linebacker positions - and having guys that can spell people like Keelan and those guys that play on offense as well.”