Jackets going 'iron man' against Aledo

BRAD KEITH brad.keith@empiretribune.com
The senior receiver is one of several standouts Stephenville head coach Joe Gillespie says will play more than just offense starting Friday against Aledo.

Fan alert: Keep your head on a swivel Friday night if you hope to keep up with where the Stephenville players are coming from against Aledo.

Head coach Joe Gillespie has made a bold early season decision: anyone is game to go in at any time, regardless who has the ball.

Stephenville hosts its biggest recent nemesis, three-time defending 4A Division II champ Aledo, at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tarleton Memorial Stadium.

"We have some guys who instead of playing 95 percent of the offensive snaps or 95 percent of the defensive snaps may play 95 percent of the game," said Gillespie. "I need leaders to be leaders and playmakers to be playmakers.

"The Witt Westbrooks and Brice Gunters and Jarrett Stidhams, we're going to use those guys a lot on both sides of the ball," he continued. "Chase Varnado may play some offense; Mookie Carlile, Preston Brown and Tyler Pettit may play some offense. And if Tyler Jones fits into that mix, he may even play some defense. We're out to win games and make this team better."

Gillespie said it wasn't an overnight decision, nor is it a knee-jerk reaction to last Friday's 27-17 loss to 11-time Mexican national champion Monterrey Prepa Tec.

"It's something I planned to gradually work into over the next four weeks, but we've decided it's time," Gillespie said. "I want our kids to learn what it's like to play that way now, not five weeks from now. And the fact that it's Aledo and we all know the quality of product they will put on the field only helps the players and only helps us coaches because they'll make us better and I hope we can make them better."

Gillespie has taken the same aggressive approach to the practice field this week.

"We went full pads and full bore on Monday, full pads and full bore on Tuesday and we're going full pads and full bore today," he said in a Wednesday morning interview. "There are no more quick whistles and no longer is anyone untouchable. We're going after it; we're playing football.

"My full intention is to make Friday night a cakewalk compared to what we're doing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday," he added. "It will take more than one week for that to transform us and that's OK. I'm playing to win Friday night, but I'm building a football team for five weeks from now."

Aledo is coming off a 31-12 beating of Highland Park in a much anticipated season opener in the Tom Landry Classic at SMU's Ford Stadium.

"That was a big game a lot of people were looking forward to between two of the teams who fit right in there with the lore of Texas high school football," Gillespie said. "And what Aledo did was impressive. I think they have the potential to be just as good as they were last year, just different."

That says a lot, because all the Bearcats did last year was go 14-2 and win their third straight state title. Stephenville defeated Aledo 48-47 in a season-opening thriller that ended with a blocked punt and not one but two blocked field goals, only to lose to the Bearcats 33-0 in the state quarterfinals.

"Everyone seemed to think they would be down this year just because they lost (Jonathan) Gray and (Matthew) Bishop," Gillespie explained. "They're not down at all. They have a great program full of guys who were just next in line on offense, and they have a lot of starters back on defense."

Running back/receiver Caleb Frysinger is the Bearcats' bell cow with Gray having moved on to the University of Texas.

"Frysinger's a great football player and a great athlete who can hurt you in a lot of ways," Gillespie said. "He's that guy you have to find before every snap and know where he's coming from because he's dangerous. He came in after Gray got ejected in the playoffs and I thought, 'OK, here we go.' But he picked up right where Gray left off."

Senior quarterback Pate Davis took over for Bishop, who is playing at Tarleton.

"He may actually have more physical talent than Bishop, I just don't know yet if he's the competitor Bishop is," Gillespie said. "That's what makes Bishop special is that he's such a fierce competitor."

On paper, Aledo's defense is loaded at linebacker and safety. Safeties Clayton Lowe and Shaea Wood each return, as do star linebackers Gunner Johnson and Jordan Mittie, the son of TCU women's basketball coach Jeff Mittie.

"Their defense is very good, but so is their offense," Gillespie said. "It's Aledo, I wouldn't expect anything different. It's just more of the 2008 version of Aledo than the version they became with Gray and Bishop."

Regardless what Aledo does, Gillespie plans on seeing a better Stephenville team on the turf in the Jackets' annual Heart of Gold game.

"We're going to be a much better football team this Friday than last Friday," he said. "We're going to have to be. I told our guys last week I thought we played 22 good minutes out of 24 in the second half, but we also only played 22 good minutes out of all 48 (in the game). It's going to take 42, 43, 44 minutes against a team like Aledo, because you know that's what they're going to string together.

"We don't have to put 48 solid minutes together yet," he concluded. "We need to be doing that around week eight or week nine. But we have to string together a lot more than 22."

Follow Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports