By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
Spring practice is in full swing for the Belton Tigers, as they are two weeks into the preparations for the May 27 Red and White Game at Tiger Field.
Belton head coach Bob Shipley has some solid talent returning and changes that have been made early on.
“We have some good players on defense returning, but every spot is up for grabs,” Shipley said. “We’ve had some changes on our defensive staff so the new coaches will have to learn about the kids and the kids will be learning a new defensive philosophy.”
One of the big changes made, not only with the hiring of a new defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, is the conversion of offensive lineman Javon Chambers to the defensive line.
“I’m really excited about our defense,” Shipley said. “We’ve moved Javon Chambers to the defensive line, which will help tremendously. He’s been a two-year starter at guard and is a great player. At close to 300 pounds and having a 750-plus pound squat, he’ll anchor our defensive front. We’ve got some starters back on defense. We have our two safeties back, a corner and two linebackers and two defensive front guys back so we’ll have the opportunity to be much better defensively.”
Defensively, the defensive line will be one of the facets fans will have their eye on this season.
“The D-line hasn’t necessarily been our strength, but it may well be this year,” Shipley said. “Chambers, Fisher, Chapman, Jones and Blanks have looked good so far.”
Another player that is focused in the early going is LB John Harvey. Certainly smart in the classroom, his motor is always going on the field and will be a great leader on defense this season. “John is the kind of kid every coach loves to have on the field,” Shipley said. “He’s not the biggest or fastest, but he plays the game the way it was meant to be played. He’s all over the field. We’re looking for him to provide great leadership for us on defense.”
The secondary wasn’t tested a lot last season, but Garrison Vaughn and Hunter Garrett came up big back there in key times. Now they are the seasoned vets back there and he’ll be showing the new guys the ropes.
“We have three starters back and have moved a couple of receivers back there to fight for positions,” Shipley said. “Hunter Garrett and Garrison Vaughn have a lot of experience back there and will have to provide the leadership for our secondary.”
The Tigers offense still has two of their big producers in quarterback Peyton Mansell and running back Davion Peoples.
“We have our top passer and our top rusher back,” Shipley said. “So our focus will be to bring our receivers and O-line along so that we can continue to be productive offensively.”
Mansell is having a solid spring, looking fresh and focused, on the field and off of it. He looks confident and looks ready to lead this team on offense.
“He’s improved so much from a year ago,” Shipley said. “He has great arm strength and running ability. He’s grown as a leader and his footwork is getting better and better. I think he’ll be on of the better quarterbacks in the state next fall.”
John Taggart has made the conversion to inside receiver for the Tigers. He’s a great talent with solid vertical jump, soft hands and good route-running ability. Serving as the backup quarterback in 2015, Taggart’s talent, tenacity and expertise was just too good to be on the sidelines for the Tigers.
“We have moved John to inside receiver,” Shipley said. “He’s had a great off-season and is excited about the move. He’s going to give it everything he has. He’s got good hands and is a tough competitor. We’re looking for him to just get better and better.”
The wide receivers and Remington Lutz at tight end have had a good spring thus far. The unit ran nice, crisp routes.
“Remy may be our most improved player from last fall,” Shipley said. “He’s got D-1 talent. When he fills out his 6-6 frame, he’ll be a beast. He runs really well and has great hands. His blocking continues to improve. “So he’s got a great future in front of him.
The offensive line looks healthy and aggressive, working to improve with each practice.
“We’ve lost two great offensive linemen with Shack (Texas center Zack Shackelford) graduating and Javon moving to defense but we expect some other kids to step up and fill those spots nicely,” Shipley said. “We’re not where we were last year with our O-line, but we don’t have to be until August 26th. That’s why you have spring ball.”