Four months after winning the Class 5A Division I state championship, there were no signs of complacency or entitlement when Highland Park football players returned to the field.
Still, when spring practice began with a mix of varsity newcomers and a handful of holdovers who were on the field for the Scots’ 16-7 win over Temple in December, there was a slightly different feeling in the air.
“I think there’s more excitement,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “Our kids are confident and excited to get started again.”
And why not? The Scots already have a strong foundation on offense, bolstered by the return of starting quarterback John Stephen Jones, running back Paxton Alexander, massive offensive lineman Thomas Shelmire, and top receivers Scully Jenevein and Cade Saustad.
“Those five give us a solid core on offense,” said Allen, whose team wrapped up spring drills with the annual Blue-Gold scrimmage on Thursday. “I’ve seen some leadership.”
The HP defense must replace nine starters, including its entire group of linemen and linebackers. Only defensive back Zak Folts and James Herring will be regular holdovers from 2016.
However, Allen said the competition for starting spots has led to a hard-working contingent that has held its own against the more experienced offense during drills.
“We’ve got a lot of positions to fill. We’ve seen a lot of improvement,” Allen said. “You can see the makings of a good defense. It’s just going to be a matter of whether they can have the same teamwork that we had last year.”
Last season, the Scots overcame some early-season struggles on defense and became stout by the time the playoffs arrived. Allen hopes for the same result in the fall, when his inexperienced unit will be tested during nondistrict play, starting with the season opener on Sept. 1 at Rockwall.
HP didn’t change its spring routine drastically from past years leading up to the annual spring scrimmage. However, the Scots elected to use only 12 of their 18 practice days allowed by the UIL, in part because they worked out for six extra weeks during last year’s postseason run.
Allen has been pleased with the offseason work ethic of his players, something he attributes in part to tradition and expectations.
“Every group wants to leave it better than they found it,” he said. “They know what it takes to be great. They had a great example set last year.”