After this past weekend’s 22-8 loss to the Baytown Thunder, the Cedar Park Punishers have fallen to 0-3 on the season, an unfamiliar place for a team that entered the 2017 season with a 32-5 all-time record.
“Right now, this is where we’re at,” Punishers owner Ken Smith told Developmental Football USA. “We’re basically rebuilding, starting over with a bunch of new players and they still need time to develop, so it is what it is. We’re still trying to fix it all, and fine-tune everything with these young guys and we’re just not there yet.”
After an inaugural season in the Crossroads Amateur Football League, followed by two season in the Minor Professional Football League, the Punishers are now part of the Dynamic Texas Football Association. However, their change in competition isn’t the reason for their slump, nor is it coaching.
“We had so much success over the years, but this year is a different season,” Smith said. “A lot of the older guys from the past have retired, so we’re trying to get these young guys up to that level. In the CRAFL we had success right out of the gate, we were a dominant team and I knew the talent level we had so I bumped us up into the MPFL, now we jumped into the DTFA.”
With several highly successful high school football programs in Austin, like Lake Travis and Westlake of Class 6A, Cedar Park and Cedar Park Vista Ridge of Class 5A and many others, it’s only a matter of time before the Punishers reclaim their previous level of success.
“This year’s team, we’ve got a bunch of young guys,” Smith said. “We’ve got some guys from Cedar Park High School from when they won their state championship. We’ve got some guys from Lake Travis when they won their championship and some guys from Vista Ridge. I’d say our average age right now would probably be 22.”
With some teams at the developmental level stacked with former NFL and college talent and other teams with a roster full of guys with no post-high school experience, teams don’t always know what they’re going up against on Saturday. Needless to say, it’s an adjustment, even in a state that’s known for its Texas high school football.
“The speed of the game is much faster, even at this level,” Smith said. “You’re playing against a lot of guys with former D1 experience and several that played in the NFL too. These younger guys are finding out first-hand, they have a lot of work to do.
“They’re trying. Right now, we’re still creating our own identity. I have a real nice receiving core, but our quarterback is still working out the kinks to adjust to this level and he’s not there yet. My receiving core is one of the best I’ve ever had, we’ve just got to get them the ball.”
The group of wide outs for the Punishers is led by Devin Boynton, and Smith is excited about his athleticism.
“He’s very tall and he’s a powerful kid,” Smith said. “He’s maybe like 195 pounds, but great off the line, great technique, great speed, and hands out of this world. He’s actually a pro tennis player, he’s a very dominant pro tennis player that started playing football.”
Defensively, the Punishers are more experienced and they have some very prominent veterans at that. The defensive line is anchored by Justin Mason – a dominant lineman at this level with college experience at Texas A&M Kingsville – and the linebackers are led by middle linebacker and Sul Ross alumn, Todd Cooks.
“Just his athleticism and his knowledge of the game, he has an instinct of where the ball is coming,” Smith said. “He’s guaranteed to make plays every game and he leaves it all out on the line every game and doesn’t hold anything back.”
Last but not least, the most notable defender for the Punishers is former Baylor Bear, Romie Blaylock who plays safety. Blaylock was a three-star recruit in 2007 out of Cedar Hill High School, according to Rivals.com, and chose Baylor over offers from Kansas State, Purdue and several others.
“He brings a lot of experience, to play at that high level,” Smith said. “Those three guys, they’re a lot more experienced than the younger guys on the team, so they’re having to mentor also and teach the younger guys their knowledge and help them be able to play at this level. They’re showing the guys what to expect and what they need to do.”
While every athlete and every competitor wants to win, the Punishers aren’t discouraged by their rough start to the season. Plus, there’s still a lot of football left to be played.
“The main goal right now – we’re starting off very slow, but I see a great future – I think we can turn it around this season, but we’ve got to start gelling,” Smith said. “Once they see what they need to do and adjust to the speed at this level, we can get back to where we used to be. I think we’ll make a good push to make playoffs and once we make playoffs, everyone’s record is 0-0 again.”
You can catch the Punishers at home at J.B. Gupton Stadium and other Leander ISD venues, such as the elementary schools where they have routine events for the kids.
“We do a lot in the community,” Smith said. “I have a great bunch of guys. Regardless of what our record shows and how we’re performing, we have a great bunch of guys that I would go to war for any day. They’re learning and trying to pull it back together and when they do we’ll be back in the swing of things the way Punisher football should be.”
The Punishers travel east to take on the Fort Bend Storm this weekend.