West Texas A&M football squad opens drills

The highly anticipated Hunter Hughes era is underway at West Texas A&M as the Buffs opened camp Monday afternoon.

 

WT, with the rest of Division II, started practices a week early due to the NCAA rule changes that eliminated two-a-day workouts. WT’s practices will consist of one three hour practice per day.

The Buffs had 106 players report to fall camp, with big changes in stores for the upcoming 2017 season.

Hughes and his brand new coaching staff heavily rely on bringing a new culture to the players that returned and the new players on the roster for 2017.

“When we first got here accountability was an issue,” said Hughes, who spent the last 10 years as the defensive coordinator at Colorado State-Pueblo. “We made a statement on what we were doing and why we were doing it. I want these guys to know that everything they do means something. How they’re doing it, when they’re doing it.

“The environment they put themselves in matters. We want a family culture. We’re going to challenge them. There is a method to our madness and I’m excited to see how our guys respond.”

The Buffs did finish conditioning tests today. Due to rainy conditions, practice was pushed back until later in the afternoon.

The Buffs will see uncertainty revolving around a number of positions.

Here are five storylines to follow through August workouts

New offense

A new era brings a new system to West Texas A&M. Gone are the days of the spread offense.

Hughes, with offensive coordinator Ryan McDonough, wants to make the Buffs a more physical, grind-it-out team that can ware opponents down in the fourth quarter.

Last season at Western State, McDonough’s offense ran for 226 yards per game behind talented running back Austin Ekeler, who is now in training camp with the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Buffs bring back Trent Canion, Collin Bailey and Warren Witherspoon in the backfield. Look for true freshman and San Angelo Central graduate Daven Manning along with Kobe Morrow and Tyler Gray to make a splash.

Offensive line

Lacking experience, depth and health across the board, the offensive line last season had its issues.

With a new offensive scheme where the line will be the gel for what Hughes hopes is a solid run game, those issues can’t repeat themselves. The Buffs do return 6-foot-6 left, 293-pound left tackle and senior captain Dillon Vaughan as well as junior right tackle Travis Vornkahl.

The real challenge is presented along the interior.

WT lost four-year starter and leader Austin Carson at center. Michael Whitfield took reps at center during the spring but it’s unclear if the job is his come Sept. 2.

The Buffs also have questions at their guard positions.

Quarterback competition

Long-term quarterbacks haven’t existed at WT since the departure of the LSC’s all-time leading passer Dustin Vaughan.

Skyler Bonnaeu, Ben Arbuckle, Justin Houghtaling, and junior college transfer Gavin Pruett are contending for this season’s position.

Arbuckle, a Canadian graduate, has the most experience starting five games as a sophomore last season. Senior-to-be Ethan Brinkley, who had started a total of 14 starts over the past two years, decided not to return.

Redshirt freshman Bonneau had the best spring, earning the Dustin Vaughan QB Award. Bonneau also ran McDonough’s system in high school at Coppell, yet he’s unproven as a starter.

Defensively sound

WT’s strength this season will be its defense. New defensive coordinator Miles Kochevar was fortunate enough to implement his aggressive 3-4 scheme in the spring with six returning starters.

Up front, the Buffs have a solid nucleus return with Soloman Perdue, Gerrod Johnson and Lance Hyder. Depth may be a concern. Carter James, Hayden Dennis and Trevor Mykelbust make up the returning linebackers, while Daelin Young uses his speed off the edge in a hybrid position.

The secondary will be a question mark. Junior Chazz Slatinsky is the lone returner. With the departure of All-LSC cornerback Lee Anthony Dawson last spring, WT will go with Kevon Thomas and Keimone Davis at the corner positions to open fall workouts.

Special teams

It’s gotten lost in the shuffle that WT has to replace three-year staring kicker and Caprock graduate Conner Hollabaugh. Hollabaugh, an All-Conference kicker, handled the kicking duties and was one of the best in the LSC.

Punter John Cummings is the only player back on the roster with experience. Cummings will challenge for the kicking job as well as the punting.

True freshman and Perryton graduate Luis Torres and freshman Alex Schrag will also compete for the spot.

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Season opener: Azusa Pacific Cougars at West Texas A&M, 6 p.m. Sept 2., on Happy State Bank Field at Kimbrough Memorial Stadium.

WT Fall Practice Schedule

Aug. 8;8 a.m.

Aug. 9;8:30 a.m.

Aug. 10;8 a.m.

Aug. 11;8:30 a.m. (First day in pads)

Aug. 12;8 a.m.

Aug. 14;8 a.m.

Aug. 15;8:30 a.m.

Aug. 16;8 a.m.

Aug. 17;8:30 a.m.

Aug. 18;8 a.m.

Aug. 19;8:30 a.m. (Scrimmage at Kimbrough)

Aug. 21;8 a.m.

Aug. 22;8:30 a.m.

Aug. 23;8 a.m.

Aug. 24;8:30 a.m.

Aug. 25;8 a.m.

Aug. 26;8:30 a.m.

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