The Kempner Cougars had to grow up in a hurry last season, and ninth-year head coach Darrin Andrus hopes the experience will prove beneficial.
Since making the postseason in 2016, Kempner stumbled to a 2-7 mark in 2017 and went 1-9 in 2018, with as many as 11 sophomore starters. The entire offensive line returns in 2019, and the Cougars return 12 total starters.
“Those kids have the experience now and have really grown up from having gone through that,” Andrus said. “I think we’re going to be much improved simply from the standpoint that they’re not just little kids out there anymore. They’re kids with varsity experience.
“I think we’re going to be much better on defense. We’ve moved some people around, and we’ve got a good shot.”
The Cougars sported one of the best rushing attacks in District 20-6A last year, racking up 342 yards per game on the ground while averaging 27 points.
Replicating that performance might prove challenging, though the Cougars return two of their three leading rushers from last season in Jaden Hannah (379 yards, two touchdowns) and Jalen Bates (477 yards, one TD). They seek to replace Jordan Shelton, who ran for more than 2,000 yards.
Senior guard and Texas A&M commit Aki Ogunbiyi, junior center Zach Yassine and senior Breck Sheldon return on the offensive line in the Cougars’ flex bone attack.
“I think our offense can lead the way and again be one of the top offenses in the district,” Andrus said. “We try to run the ball as much as we can and control the ball, but hopefully we can throw the ball better this year, even though we don’t throw it unless we have to.”
Defensively, a shaky secondary often doomed the Cougars, who surrendered more than 46 points per game last season. To shore that up, both Bates and Hannah will shift to the secondary alongside senior cornerback Jordan Verge.
“That whole secondary has been revamped, so we’re looking to see some good things out of them,” Andrus said “We’re going to make some tweaks up front to try helping out our secondary and give teams multiple looks to switch it up. We’re going to mix in different fronts to try putting our players in the best position to make plays.”
Kempner begins its quest for redemption with a home game against Pasadena Memorial at 7 p.m. Thursday.