• October 19, 2019

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Falcons ready to start 2019 season - Odessa American: Utpb

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Falcons ready to start 2019 season

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Posted: Friday, September 6, 2019 11:45 pm

UTPB football coach Justin Carrigan has been molding the Falcons like a sculptor working on a piece of clay, taking some off here, adding other pieces there, until the final product starts to come into focus.

Carrigan’s vision for the Falcons has been shaped for the past four seasons and now, as the team gets ready to start the 2019 campaign, a much more polished, and cleaner version, has emerged.

UTPB will put this year’s team on display for the first time against Wayland Baptist at 6 tonight at Ratliff Stadium.

Carrigan and the players are, naturally, excited about the upcoming season, the first with players who have been with the program all four years.

“Things look good,” Carrigan said. “We’ve still got some young guys trying to find the right direction to go, but we are bigger and faster.

“I think there has been an improvement every year in the talent level and this year is no different. The biggest difference is in the number; each year we’ve brought in some great talent, this year we’ve brought in great talent but in a higher quantity.”

That quantity is creating competition across the board, something that Carrigan stresses to make sure that he is putting the best 11 offensive and defensive players out there each week for the program to be successful.

One of those spots is quarterback, where sophomore Taylor Null and senior Kameron Mathis shared time last year until Null made the position his.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Mathis is just going to sit back and watch.

“I’m going to compete every day,” Mathis said. “The only way any of us are going to get better is if we get pushed by the other guys in our group.

“And we all want to see the other guys succeed, which might be a little different than in the past. We all wanted to see the team win, but we wanted to be the guy who was out there every play.”

Senior offensive lineman Pablo Gutierrez is another player who had taken Carrigan’s mantra to heart.

The 2016 Odessa High graduate walked on to the program with no guarantees.

He played three games as a freshman and then moved into a starting spot the final three games of his sophomore season and hasn’t left.

One of the leaders of the team, Gutierrez likes what he sees each day in practice.

“These kids coming in, they’ve got all the talent in the world, it’s crazy,” Gutierrez said. “It’s amazing to watch and if they buy into what they older guys are saying, buy into the process, the sky’s the limit.

“I know that there are freshman on this team that are more talented than me and I’m thankful for that because it makes me work hard every day.”

A pair of players that the Falcons have counted relied upon on the defensive side of the football the past three seasons are linebackers Chris Hoad and Keegan Gray.

Both are capable of going from sideline to sideline to make a play and more often than not, one or the other is going to coming off the bottom of the pile after a tackle.

Hoad, the Lone Star Conference’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year, led the conference tackles last season with 110, which was third in the nation in the NCAA Division II ranks.

He expects the maturity of this year’s team to make a huge difference on Saturdays.

“We’ve always had the skill,” he said. “We showed that last year.

“Now we just playing more confidently and more comfortably and when that confidence comes, you play faster. And when you play faster, you play better.”

Gray, from Andrews, finished with 73 tackles on the season, seventh in the conference and is looking forward to his senior year, though he’s surprised it’s already here.

“It’s crazy how fast the time has gone by,” Gray said. “But it’s been so much fun to be a part of building this program and watching it get better each year and I think this is going to be our best season yet.

“Everyone is looking forward to the first game and getting things started.”

>> Follow Lee Scheide on Twitter at @OALeeScheide

Odessa, TX

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