By Bill McCaughey
For The Fort Bend Star
Last year, Willowridge came from behind to beat Galveston Ball in the last game of the regular season to claim a playoff spot for the first time since 2009.
So how do the Eagles keep their playoff string intact?
“We have to build off the success we had last year and not get caught looking at it,” Coach Richard Lazarou said. “The team has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go and I am very excited to see how we are going to grow as a team going forward.”
Leading the team this year will be senior D.J. Johnson and junior Vaughnte Frederick. Johnson was an all-district linebacker last year who will play strong safety and tight end this year.
“Johnson was an all-district player on defense last year,” Lazarou said. “We will be looking for D.J. to make plays in all three phases of the game this year.”
In a district with many good quarterbacks and receivers, Johnson, at 6’ 3”, 205 pounds and 4.6 speed, was moved to safety to upgrade the Eagles pass defense.
“We play a lot of cover four defense, which means the safeties and corners are covering deep. The linebackers will cover the short outside routes and the middle linebacker has the middle of the field. I prefer the cover four because you can see the whole field, and see what the receivers are doing, and see what I need to do,” Johnson said. “A few of the district teams run hurry-up offenses. We prepare for that by doing a lot of conditioning work. We are ready for the hurry-up plays.”
“Vaughnte Frederick was an All-District wide receiver who started all year on the varsity as a sophomore and made plays on both offense and special teams,” Lazarou said. “Vaughnte is one of our leaders and has had a great off-season. We are looking for him to make a big impact in all three phases of the game this year from multiple positions.”
Frederick will play wide receiver, cornerback, return kick-offs, and may get some time at quarterback this year.
“I like cornerback, but I will do what’s best for the team,” Frederick said. “Playing wide receiver really helps me when I play quarterback, and it helps the quarterback because I know what’s going on and when to come back and help him out. It also helps me play cornerback because I know what’s going through the quarterback’s head.”
Frederick started at quarterback the first two games of last season before Kealton Goffney took over.
“As a quarterback, I like to see a cover four defense, because I know we can do a lot in the flat and on curl routes. The middle is also open if I want to run,” Frederick said.
Replacing the big cleats of Kealton Goffney, last year’s district 23-5A offensive most valuable player, will be junior Christian Carter, an all-district cornerback last year.
“Christian Carter is another all-district player who started every game last year on either offense or defense,” Lazarou said. “Christian is another one who has worked hard this off-season and has really grown into a leader on this team.”
“Christian has a big arm. He can really throw it,” Frederickson said.
Seniors Alan Perales, a returning all-district offensive lineman, and Mark Alvarado will anchor the offensive line.
“Alan Perales is a two-year starter and has a chance to be a dominating offensive lineman this year. He has the intelligence and the strength to be the sort of offensive lineman that will be able to make every block we need to be successful,” Lazarou said. “Mark Alvarado will be our center and a big-time leader for us.”
The Eagles are counting on a break-out season from junior London Bennett.
“Bennett is another starter we have coming back that will anchor our defensive line. London has had a great off-season and has a chance to be a dominating defensive lineman,” Lazarou said. “He has the size and speed to make plays all over the line of scrimmage and we are excited about watching him become the player we know he can be.“
A couple of sophomores are making a case for some playing time.
“Ladarian Carter and Javion Chapman have really had good off-seasons and have worked to gain our attention,” Lazarou said.
Last year, the Eagles finished in fourth place in District 23-5A with a 4-3 district record, and a 6-4 overall record. Willowridge beat Waltrip 28-24 in the first round of the playoffs, but lost to Port-Neches – Groves 28-14 in the area round. The Eagles open the new season against Aldine on Friday at Hall Stadium.