By David Wolman | Star Local Media
COPPELL – When the Coppell football team walked onto Buddy Echols Field at 6 a.m. Monday, the sun had yet to rise, allowing the Cowboys to tackle the first day of fall practice without being exposed to the oppressive heat that has plagued the Dallas area.
And while the sun eventually rose to the sky before the end of the two-hour practice, second-year head coach Antonio Wiley was already laser focused. He used the first 15 minutes to test the conditioning of the players, which included a drill where his players sprinted 50 yards up the field and back three times.
For as much as Wiley has stressed of the importance of the Cowboys’ summer strength and conditioning program, the players know the meaning behind the words that he minces. It was part of the big piece to the puzzle that allowed Coppell to finish 9-2 in his first season at the helm – a five-win turnaround from the previous year – and make the postseason.
"I'm consistent and they know me,” he said. “They've come to understand our expectations and know what to expect. They know what the standard is."
The bar has been set high, and a big reason why Coppell finished with nine wins last season was the big-play ability of an offense that averaged 36.3 points per game. Jack Fishpaw was the catalyst, and he was later named the District 6-6A co-MVP.
However, Fishpaw graduated this spring, leaving a big void to fill. Junior Edward Griffin appears to be the front-runner. He quarterbacked the Cowboys to a top-four finish in the 7 on 7 Division I state tournament in College Station in June. Senior Alex Holder and Greenhill transfer Anthony Banks are also in the mix.
While a starter has yet to be named, senior wide receiver Baron Tipton, a North Texas commit that had 11 touchdown receptions last season, is confident in three quarterbacks to keep Coppell’s offense in a good groove.
"Our passing game is going to be on point,” Tipton said. “When we went to state 7 on 7, we beat DeSoto, which won it all the year before. We had great leadership. Everyone has been working so hard. Edward has been competing well and is starting to earn his spot."
Another player that thrived during last year’s run to the playoffs was Ike Odimegwu, who was named 6-6A co-defensive player of the year after he finished with 57 Tackles, six sacks, 21 quarterback pressures, nine tackles for loss, two fumbles caused, three fumbles recovered, two pass break-ups and one score. Replacing the caliber of a defensive end such as Odimegwu, a Brown signee, won’t be easy.
"We're going to do it by committee,” Wiley said. “Those are hard shoes to fill. Ike was explosive, fast and did a lot of good stuff. Not sure that have one player that can do that, but we have several players that can compete at a high level."
Coppell hopes to nail down the starters at the aforementioned positions by the Aug. 25 season opener against Sachse at Buddy Echols Field.
The anticipation for that Week One matchup is high among the Cowboy players and coaching staff.
"I don't think anybody can put more expectations on us than ourselves,” Wiley said. “A nine-win season is great. I'm glad we did it, but we're not satisfied. We're better as a team. I've been watching our guys. We've been working and grinding.