Winters Blizzards moving to a spread offense in 2021
Seventh-year Winters head football coach Matt McCarty said initial preseason practices were moving a little slow because the Blizzards are switching to the spread offense and tweaking their defense.
But if Class 2A Division I Winters starts slowly this season, don’t write off the Blizzards. Winters started 1-6 last year, but won three consecutive games – including a COVID forfeit from Coleman – to make the playoffs.
And in 2017, McCarty’s third season at Winters, the Blizzards overcame a 1-5 start to finish second in their district.
“Last year we had some kids playing out of position,” McCarty said of his team’s 1-6 start that included District 4-2A Division I losses to Cisco and San Saba by a combined 77-14. “We moved our quarterback (Alex Salas) to running back, where he could be more of a game changer. And we started our backup quarterback, Jon Kullen Busher. Both of them did a great job in their new positions, and we won our next two district games (plus the Coleman forfeit).
“I go back and forth about whether to play a tough nondistrict schedule. It doesn’t help your win-loss record, but it helps get you situated for the end of the season. Last year we played Cisco closer than anybody in the district (28-14), and we were tied with them at the half.”
Cisco went on to play in the state quarterfinals.
Winters finished 4-7 last year after a 45-7 bidistrict loss to Anson. The Blizzards return 13 starters for this season.
Salas was a senior last year, but Busher is back at quarterback. McCarty said the move from the flexbone to the spread offense was to accommodate the skills of Busher and a tall, fast group of receivers.
Busher entered the lineup and quarterbacked Winters to district wins over Goldthwaite (28-13) and De Leon (41-14) as the Blizzards made their fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
“He’s a senior and a leader on the team,” McCarty said of the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Busher. “He can run and throw, and he’s tough as nails. He’s a quintessential West Texas quarterback.”
The pass catchers include senior Trent Hamilton, a 6-3, 225-pound converted lineman; Chaney Bahlman, a 6-4 senior; along with speed receivers Dayvin Oats (5-10, 160) and Houston Esquivel (5-9, 165).
“Hamilton is very athletic. He could play inside receiver, tight end or even fullback,” McCarty said. “Oats is athletic, and Esquivel is our best downfield receiving threat.”
Aidan Leamon, a 6-2, 180-pound junior, has moved from receiver to running back.
“Leamon is special,” McCarty said. “He runs hard, and he finished third at regional last year in the 300-meter hurdles, so he has some speed.
“The skill positions on offense are our strength. We have a lot of speed and decent size to go with it. We have a lot of length in our skill players that we haven’t had before,” McCarty said.
“Our offensive line is just the opposite. We’re really young. We only have two guys we know for sure are starting.”
Those two starters are third-year tackle Rider Duggan (6-2, 210) and returning starter Zander Hadlock (5-10, 220), a junior. Senior Connor Garcia is the top prospect at center. Otherwise, offensive line positions were up for grabs as preseason practices played out.
The most points Winters scored last year against a team with a winning record was 22 against Anson.
Defensively, the Blizzards allowed 34 points per game during their 1-6 start, so improvement within that unit is a priority. Busher will be a third-year starter at inside linebacker, Hamilton returns at nose guard, and Leamon will lead the secondary at free safety.
“The strength of our defense is down the middle with our nose guard, inside linebackers and free safety,” McCarty said. “We have more experience coming back on defense, and they’re playing in the same positions they played last year.”
Other returning starters up front on defense include Bahlman at outside linebacker and Duggan at end. Oats and Esquivel give the Blizzards a pair of returning starters at cornerback. Senior Cannon Collins (5-9, 175) will step in at inside linebacker, and sophomore Aidan Bryant is projected to start at outside linebacker.
Chris Martinez, another sophomore, is expected to make an immediate impact at safety. The 5-4, 140-pound Martinez was the district champion in the 100 meters last spring as a sophomore.
“Our expectations remain the same,” said McCarty, 26-39 at Winters. “We expect to be at or near the top of the district. We’ve got a good senior class and a big sophomore class. I think our district is tougher than last year.”
In District 4-2A DI, No. 5-ranked Cisco is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as champion. San Saba, ranked No. 17 and the winner of 35 games over the last three years, is picked second in most preseason polls. Coleman and Winters are projected to take the final two playoff spots, with Goldthwaite and De Leon predicted to miss out.
District: 4-2A Division I
Head coach: Matt McCarty (26-39; all at Winters)
Last year’s record: 4-7; 3-2 in district
Last district title/playoff appearance: 2014/2020
Stadium: Blizzard Stadium
Returning lettermen: 13
Returning off./def. starters: 6/6
Base offense: Spread
Base defense: 3-4
Team strength: Skill position experience
Team weakness: Depth on OL
Players to watch
QB/LB Jon Kullen Busher (5-11, 180), WR/DL Trent Hamilton (6-3, 225), WR/OLB Chaney Bahlman (6-4, 185), WR/DB Dayvin Oats (5-10, 160), WR/DB Houston Esquivel (5-9, 165), WR/DB Aidan Leamon (6-2, 175), OL/DL Zander Hadlock (5-10, 220), OL/DL Rider Duggan (6-2, 210), RB/OLB Cannon Collins (5-9, 175), WR/DB Chris Martinez (5-4, 135)
Aug. 27 at Anson
Sept. 3 Eldorado
Sept. 10 at Bangs
Sept. 17 at Hawley
Sept. 24 Hico
Oct. 8 Cisco*
Oct. 15 at San Saba*
Oct. 22 Goldthwaite*
Oct. 29 De Leon*
Nov. 5 at Coleman*
Anson L 22-34
Eldorado L 19-51
Bangs L 19-42
Hawley L 13-36
Hico W 41-0
Cisco L 14-28
San Saba L 0-49
Goldthwaite W 28-13
De Leon W 41-14
Coleman W 1-0 (COVID forfeit)
Anson L 7-45