It might be a difficult task to convince Kent Teeter that the cupboard is bare.
Despite returning only two offensive and one defensive (he’s one of the two offensive returners, too), Teeter, who is beginning his fifth year at the helm of the Holcomb Longhorns football program, is cautiously optimistic as the 2018 season prepares to kickoff.
The Longhorns, who went 12-1 a year ago en route to the Class 4A-II state championship, will get their first real-time test with almost an entirely new lineup at 7 p.m. Friday, when they travel to face the Goodland Cowboys in a Great West Activities Conference matchup.
“I think at this stage, we’re better than I thought we would be, honestly,” Teeter said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “We have 11 seniors who have really committed themselves. They’ve matured, and it’s their time and they understand the work ethic. The practices have been good.”
Teeter lost his entire backfield and receiving corps from last year’s state title team, the second crown captured by Teeter’s squad during his four-year stint (the other in 2015) in which the ‘Horns have compiled a lofty 43-7 (.860) record.
“What I’ve seen so far is that a lot of the kids from a year ago have invested in the weight room, conditioning and are now faster, bigger and stronger than they were a year ago, so it’s like we have the same kids, but just much more mature," Teeter said.
And with a slight tinge of that optimism, Teeter knows that the story of the Longhorns will be written over the nine game regular season schedule, and also the fact that his team, along with all other GWAC schools except Ulysses, have dropped to Class 3A with the new re-classification implementation.
The Longhorns are now in District 7 with Hugoton, Kingman, Larned, Nickerson and Pratt. The top four teams will qualify for the postseason.
Senior Peyton Ortern is the heir apparent to Trey Gilbert at quarterback while junior Kobe Hands is the backup.
Jayson Lambert and Drew Hill are ticketed for the running back spots while River Amos will be at tight end and Trey Cox at a wide receiver spot.
Seniors Damon Kepley (6-4, 235) and Jaden Blansett (5-10, 190) are the lone offensive returners. Josh Pena (Center), Randy Cole (guard) and Jace Tweedy (tackle) round out the front line.
Defensively, it will be Kepley and Devon Hill at the ends, Tweedy and Isaiah Arizpe at tackles, Cox and Blansett at inside linebacker, Amos and Drew Hill at outside linebackers. The two cornerbacks are Lambert and Jacob Henson while Caleb Clumsky will play free safety.
“The biggest thing is the majority of the guys haven’t played much at the varsity level,” Teeter said of his inexperienced group. “So far, we’ve been inconsistent in our execution, and we know that has to improve.”
The Cowboys, who lost to the Longhorns 26-14 last year, also lost a good chunk of their squad to graduation.
“There are signs that we might be able to put a competitive team together for the season,” Teeter said. “The schedule is tough early on (league favorites Scott City and Colby in weeks 2 and 3), so we’ll find out early where we stand.
“I know one thing from the past, and that is when we’ve lost we’ve then gotten much better.”
Another intrinsic value to this team is they have come from a winning tradition. The last two junior varsity seasons have produced all wins.
“They know how to win,” Teeter said. “They know how to work hard, how to get better and how to adjust to other teams, so it’s always a bit difficult to know how far this group can go. They’ve got a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. People keep telling them that they aren’t very good.”
Teeter, who once coached the Cowboys, said he doesn’t know much about this year’s team, guided by second-year coach Chase Topliff.
“A lot of the kids were in junior high when I was there, so they’ve grown up,” Teeter said. “I’m excited about this group, and excited to see how they play. We’re gonna make mistakes. We just want them to be small ones.”