New stadium, new team, new goals

Zach DiSchiano

     The number seven team in all of central Texas. Ranked thirteenth in the state in terms of defense. Eight players being recruited by top-tier colleges. Cedar Park’s 2009-2010 football team is showing more promise to make a championship run than any of the school’s recent teams. The legendary A.C. Bible Memorial stadium was torn down and rebuilt over the summer, and Cedar Park looks to rebuild their football team along with it. With towering offensive linemen and the hardest hitting linebackers in the area, the Timberwolves have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

     Last year, the Timberwolves were graced with a swift, playmaking running back in Dedrick McKnight. Cedar Park’s newest ball carrier has the potential to do the same things, if not more, as McKnight did last year. Darren Thornhill will be the heir to throne of great running backs including McKnight and Rice’s half back Tyler Smith. Thornhill’s best blocker, Dom Espinosa, has made a verbal commitment to the University of Texas. Espinosa is ranked 10th in the state and is a four star athlete according to the prestigious scouting site, www.rivals.com. This year’s line is by far the biggest and most powerful in Cedar Park history, which should allow more lanes for Thornhill to attack. The luxury of playmaking ability brought by McKnight last year combined with the developing offensive line resulted in staggering amounts of rushing yards. With Mcknight gone now, some question the ability of the new ball carriers this year.

     “We might not have the big, flashy play, but this year we have more people able to run the ball than just one player,” Espinosa said. “They are solid and able to sustain a drive; if we need five yards for a first down they’d be able to get it.”

     Espinosa is speaking of junior Michael Waterfield, senior fullback Brad Willard, junior Jamon Neal and a few other players that will run the ball when Thornhill is on the sideline.  The strength of the running game is the offensive line, and the talent from the line helps the linebackers and defensive tackles get better during practice. With three linebackers already being recruited by colleges, most other offenses worry about how to get past them than any other positions. However, the defensive line does their best job to create opportunities for the linebackers to make a play.

     “Part of the defensive line’s job is to help the linebackers get the tackles,” Stephen Garrison, defensive end, said. “We’ll run across a guard’s face and he’ll follow us and it creates a lane for the linebacker to go in and make the hit.”

    Opposing teams will be watching hours of film in hopes of figuring out the blitzing tendencies, coverage schemes and zone plays run by the linebackers, but very few teams will look so deeply in to the safeties or cornerbacks.

    “I feel like we haven’t earned the respect of many offenses yet, but with time, they will learn to respect our group,” Ryan Roberts, cornerback, said. “The front seven and secondary complement each other really well. Our job is made so much easier with pressure from the linebackers and defensive line.”

    Pressure on the quarterback is one of the most important aspects in a successful defense. Not only can pressure generate sacks, but it can also hurry the quarterback into bad throws, incompletions and interceptions. Pressure can frustrate the quarterback with his offensive line, causing disagreements and confusion in the huddle. The offensive line will tire more quickly when the defensive line and linebackers attack the quarterback routinely. Most of all, it can fire up the defense and motivate them to make more plays like the ones mentioned.

     With the focus of the offense surrounding the running game, questions open up about the passing offense and defense. There is only one starting senior at the wide receiver position and quarterback Nathan Thornhill has been away from the game with an injury. Joseph Washington, a junior wide receiver, is confident about the effectiveness of the aerial attack even with the concentration of running the football.

     “Our play-action is what kills other teams,” Washington said. “We will run-run-run, and then bust one over the top for a touchdown.”

     The athleticism of the receivers is a major plus for Thornhill, with two main receivers over six feet tall. The linebackers, despite the added weight of muscle mass, run as fast as many other teams’ light-framed receivers. The junior linebacker Chet Moss runs forty yards in 4.57 seconds, a great time in addition to a thirty inch vertical. Moss’s linebacker companion Holmes Onwukaife, runs forty yards in 4.49 seconds.  After being recruited by several other colleges, Onwukaife recently committed to Florida State University on a football scholarship. With all this speed and strength, opponent running backs don’t just have one linebacker to fear. Take it from Espinosa, who practices against them every day.

     “Our linebackers are big and well-rounded,” Espinosa said. “They are some of the best linebackers I have ever played against.”

     Opening up with three top programs in Westlake, Temple and Lake Travis, the Timberwolves had an unyielding set of teams to face at the beginning of the year. The players were hoping to set the tone of the season with three wins, but after losing two out of the three opening games, the guys were able to bounce back and give a strong district showing against Georgetown. The Timberwolves have won all four of their district games so far and hope to use their offensive and defensive weapons to beat the number eight team in the state, the Stony Point Tigers. Nathan Thornhill has shown signs of improvement not only through the air but also on the ground, scoring multiple touchdowns on his feet. The variety of running backs has provided different looks for the defenses to try and stop. The receivers have stepped up and made some big catches. Aside from all the good things we’ve seen, the Timberwolves still have some room for improvement, as they have been lacking the clutch plays on third and fourth downs, special teams errors and allowing big runs on occasion. This is to be expected, because once again District 16-5A is one of the toughest in the state. Being tied for first place in district, the Timberwolves know that much is expected of them this year after last year’s playoff run, and they are entering this season with a chip on their shoulder.

     “We work a lot harder,” Darren Thornhill said. “We just want it more.”

     Hard work and efficient practices need to occur if Cedar Park wants to accomplish their goals of reaching the playoffs. With such a tough schedule, the Timberwolves have to do a lot more to make it to the playoffs. But if they do, they will be well-prepared to face the other teams that just skipped their way into the postseason. This may be the last year of 5A football for the Timberwolves since the building of other LISD schools has dramatically decreased the CPHS population, so the thought of the final season playing the most prestigious schools applies even more pressure to the team. There’s a lot of talent in this year’s group, however the humbled Timberwolves know what needs to get done to finish off the season in the right way.