Last season marked the end of John Mustain’s three-season retirement stint.
Turns out he was what James Monroe needed.
For the first time since he retired in 2017, he led the Mavericks back to the playoffs where they put on a historic performance on defense, advancing to the Class A quarterfinals.
Now, with a group that was young last year, he hopes to continue that trend though it won’t be easy. First-team all-state lineman Jakobey Meadows graduated and the Mavs’ other first-teamer, safety Eli Allen, elected not to play football this year. Still Mustain is happy with the group he does have coming back and how quickly they’ve grasped his teachings.
“We do have several retuning players who played both ways actually,” Mustain said. “I noticed right off the bat a lot of things we were working on, things that when I came in last year they weren’t quite used to doing a certain way, they just jumped right in this year. Whether it be the offensive side or defensive side some of the techniques and drills we do they’re already doing well. But even though I feel like we can be pretty good and that experience is going to help us, we have a lot of tough opponents who have good players back too so it’s not going to be handed to you.
Amongst the returners are several skill players who saw meaningful snaps in nearly every game, something that’s helped provide stability as Mustain sets his depth chart. And while the line lost some key players, they’ve also progressed to the veteran coach’s liking.
“Our backfield of Cooper Ridgeway in the backfield and Layton Dowdy at quarterback and Braydie Carr and Chase Boggs in the backfield – they’ve all looked pretty good,” Mustain said. “The biggest thing I think in all honesty has been our improvement in our line. We lost some good linemen last year in Dylan Brihm and Jakobey Meadows but these kids so far have shown a lot to us in practice. We had a scrimmage game that we looked pretty good in. So far things have been pretty good on the line. Starting across the line will probably be Junior Jones, Brady Baker, Jacob Hall, Jackson Phipps, Ashton Evans and then we have a couple of sophomores so far that have shown some promise in Gavin French and Cole Ballangee and Jacob Proffit too. Even in that group there are only two seniors and we can have a good bunch next year too.”
Last year as Mustain was feeling out the roster he was transparent in that he thought he’d have four different kids playing quarterback. True to his word it was often a mystery as to who would line up behind center. This year Mustain doesn’t anticipate as much movement along that front.
“A lot of that too was the different scenarios,” Mustain said. “We thought one was good for one thing and one was good for another. We pretty much settled this year on Layton. Cooper has been getting some reps and Josiah Hodges too but it’s pretty much going to be Layton. He’s just a sophomore and he’s looked pretty good from this year to last year. He’s made great strides and as of right now it’ll be him. We’re settling on one but unless something happens I don’t think we’ll see quite the rotation we had last year.”
Predominately a run oriented offense under Mustain, the Mavericks likely won’t veer too much from that this season.
“I think our passing game can be decent but I still feel like we’re more of a run-oriented team,” Mustain said. “Layton’s a good runner himself. There may be situations where we put him and Cooper in the backfield together and it’s why we’ve been trying to get Josiah some reps. I don’t know how often that will happen but the potential is there. I’m just always trying to look for as many ways as I can to get as many kids involved as I can. I never was one for throwing everything on the shoulders of one player. I like to get as many involved as possible and if you can do that it will make things more difficult for the opposition.”
If there is one concern Mustain does have at this point it’s how the kicking game will shake out. With many of his teams succeeding on the defensive side of the ball, field position has always been a coaching point he’s hammered home. It’s not a detail he’s overlooking now either.
“Our kicking game even though we have not gotten into it a lot,” Mustain said of his concerns. “We practice it each day with punt, pass and kick and we break kids up into different groups. I’ve seen some promise in kickoffs and PATs from Owen Jackson, a senior soccer player who is helping us kick this year. We have a freshman in Caleb Miller who’s really coming on and I think he can help us down the road. As far as punting it’s behind Nick Pitzer and Layton Dowdy. Nick’s showing a little more promise of late and I don’t want to put Layton back there unless I have to because that’s one more area he has to cover but Nick’s shown some promise. Jordan Feamster punted really well for us last year. That area is one of concern for me because we’ve had some good punters over the years and a punt can be a major weapon defensively. Hopefully that will continue to progress.”
While the postseason and playing for a state championship is the ultimate goal, Mustain’s message to his team is to hold their horses. Qualifying is the first step and it’s not an easy one with a schedule that features six playoff teams from a year ago.
“I told my kids the other day that I have 10 goals throughout the regular season,” Mustain said. “You have to be a, it’s cliche, but you have to take it one game at a time. I’m also going to say this, any time I’ve coached a high school sport my ultimate goal has been to at least make it to a state championship and possibly win one. That’s always there for me but I don’t spend the majority of my time talking about it because I don’t want to see us get ahead of ourselves. My No. 1 goal right now is to win this opening game against Sherman. We don’t have any gimmes on our schedule. The long term goal is the same but we ultimately take it one week at a time.”
James Monroe will host Sherman to open its season on Aug. 26.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @tjack94
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