Like many developmental football teams, the West Texas Outlaws are getting ready to kick off their season next month. Unlike most teams, this will be their 15th consecutive season and it should be a good one.
“I’ve got a good coaching staff this year,” Outlaws head coach Shannon Cross told Developmental Football USA. “Charles Planks is my offensive coordinator, Dramarquis Woodard is my head defensive coach and I’ve got an offensive line coach that played at Baylor for four years, as well as a special teams coach and a quarterbacks and receivers coach.”
Last season, Cross and Woodard handled most of the coaching duties for the Outlaws, which finished 4-7, but clinched the playoffs for the 12th time in 14 years.
“It’s coming together real good,” Cross said. “It’s to where I can focus on doing my part as head coach instead of calling plays. I can watch my defense and my offense and see what they’re doing wrong and coach both sides of the ball. It’s been a blessing and a challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
During the off-season, the Outlaws – along with the West Texas Pride of Midland – moved back to the Minor Professional Football League, which features teams from all over the state of Texas and beyond. With tryouts and several practices already behind them, the roster is over 47-men strong heading into the last month of pre-season.
“It’s a totally different team,” Cross said. “Players are eager to come to practice. We practice on Saturdays and Sundays and we’ve got a lot of new guys that come to all of our meetings on Wednesdays.”
However, several veterans return from last year’s team and are hungry to see the team become much improved than what is was one year ago.
“We have a few that’s coming back that I think are going to be really good for us and help us get over the top,” Cross said. “Two of my receivers that are going to be returning, I think they are going to be really, really hungry this year and I think they are hungry. It’s showing in practice. They’re veterans that have played for awhile – Clifton Collins and Jovon Anderson. They enjoy the game just as much as I do. They are showing leadership out there day in and day out and they are hungry.”
Anderson and Collins will have a new gunslinger tossing them the rock this year, but at this point, it isn’t exactly clear who that will be, as Cross and offensive coordinator Charles Planks have yet to name a starter between quarterbacks Malachi Kneisel and Brian McKithen.
“At this point in time, they are neck and neck,” Cross said. “We have one that’s a smart quarterback, his reads are excellent. Then we have one that’s a somewhat pass or run running threat. He’s a forced to be reckoned with, he will run you off. It’s a challenge for my offensive coordinator, he likes one at one point in time and then the other one comes through and impresses him.”
Kneisel played at Lubbock Cooper High School and is more of a pocket passer, while McKitchen can also make some big plays with his feet.
“(Kneisel) is probably like 6-4, he’s a pretty stout quarterback,” Planks told Developmental Football USA. “He can do pretty much anything I ask him to do. He’s really smart and he really studies his playbook. He’s picking up everything very fast. He likes to study and be on top of his game before he gets out there. He’s not really a speedster, but he can run when I need to get the yards.
“McKitchen, he’s about 6-2 with very strong arm. He can run and gives us the potential of a dual threat back there. If we put him back there, people may think it’s a WildCat look, just based on how he looks. All it is for us now is getting these guys acclimated to the way I call plays and get them used to throwing and handing off. McKitchen came from a Wing T offense, but he as a very strong arm.”
At this point, the Outlaws will utilize a running back-by-committee as they have a whole stable of backs they feel can get the job done.
“I think we’ll have at least four running backs that will be special for us,” Cross said. “We have a gentleman coming back that was his first year last year that helped us out tremendously. This year, he’s focused on being the best he can be in hopes of walking on at a college, Robert Spencer.”
Spencer and veteran power back Waxie Homer return and are joined by a newcomer to tote the rock for the black and white.
“There is one guy, Miguel Hawkins, he’s a little guy but he’s very, very physical,” Planks said. “When I mean physical, he’ll run it like he’s 250 pounds, but he’s maybe 150 wet. He’s shifty also, we have so many.
How prolific Planks’ offense becomes depends largely on the amount of push the offensive line can provide on the ground and the protection it can provide on passing downs.
“Our line, we have Damian Roberson back,” Planks said. “We have Cesar Ulterra, he’s a new guy, a guard, he’s very physical. Joshua Salazar, he’s another guard, he can be a big, physical presence. Manuel Gutierrez can play tackle or tight end. Trine Constancio is back at center.”
Defensively, several positions are up for grabs for the Outlaws, who look to fill voids left from last year.
“We have a totally different defense,” Cross said. “We don’t really have many starters back, maybe one or two, but other than that, we have a strong safety that’s going to be a key player for us this year, but they’re head hunters and love to be around the ball, their reads are wonderful, great reads.”
Linebacker Brandon Brooks returns for the Outlaws, and as we saw last year, he is a player whose presence can really shake up opposing offenses and change the course of a game. Echezona Dike returns at defensive end also and looks to improve on what he did one year ago.
Joining Brooks at the linebacker position is Jaysen Ducrepin, who played with the West Texas Pride last year.
“He’s smart and he’s a leader that will compliment Brooks and Dike,” Woodard told Developmental Football USA.
Strong safety Tyler Mitchell, a former Monterrey Plainsmen looks to have a big rookie season for the Outlaws.
“He’s a downhill force,” Planks said. “He’ll help on the run game quite a bit, he’s very physical. There’s a guy named British Prince, we call him Fresh Prince. He’s from the Houston, he’s five years into the game and he’s still hungry enough to learn and passionate enough to get his job done.”
The Outlaws travel to Novice, Texas, to take on the West Texas Scorpions on Jan. 21 before kicking off league play on March 5. Until then, their focus is to continue to get better each day.
“We have some disciplined players that enjoy the game and want to play and want to win,” Cross said. “We have a saying that we say: ‘When we fall, we get back up’ and they are taking that in stride. I believe that when they fall, they will get back up.
“All of these guys have positive attitudes, every practice is a learning experience and they’re out there hungry.”