Raiders at the ready

Taft coach Brian Davenport admits last year's football season was tough.

Despite going through a 1-9 (1-7 in District 27-5A) struggle, Davenport and his staff remained optimistic. After all, the Raiders were going through growing pains in various areas, especially on offense where the majority of the players were getting their introduction to varsity football.

Although the only win came against Jay, Davenport saw improvement, especially late in the season. That progress has carried over into the offseason where the Taft coach expects brighter days. He's the first to point out 27-5A will have its same competitive battles, but with more experience and confidence, the Raiders are looking for more results in their favor.

“The kids are excited about what we are doing,” said Davenport, who begins his eighth year as Taft's head coach. “We still have areas to work on, but we have more experience and that should help. It was rough last year, but we felt the kids always played hard and improved.

“We saw good things in the offseason. We were pleased with that. Now, it's a matter of getting them over the hump.”

The magic word for Taft is finishing. The Raiders were in several games, but came up short against Clemens (10-7), Brennan (20-12), Marshall (17-14) and Stevens (17-15). In addition, there was a 12-2 halftime lead over 27-5A champion Brandeis that vanished in the second half.

“We really stressed playing a full game in the offseason,” the Taft coach said. “We would play well for a half, but suddenly it would get away from us. We worked on becoming more focused and being mentally tougher.”

Much of the optimism for this year is coming on offense, while the defense goes through a rebuilding stage.

For the time being, offense is Taft's strongest area.

Jocques Butler made a big impression with his work at quarterback. It was a struggle at times a year ago, but he still passed for 648 yards and two touchdowns last year, while running for 408 yards. During the offseason, Davenport saw him grown even more.

The senior quarterback is surrounded by a strong cast. Marque Jackson and Chris Butler are quality running backs. When throwing the football, Butler has several options with receivers P.J. Anderson, A.J. Wise, Jeremy Linares, Marc Lopez, Tracy Watson and Harold Lamar on hand.

A little tweaking needed to be done on the line, but that area appears to becoming secure with the work of Nick Perez, Sean Garza and Alex Payne.

“We started moving the ball better late last season,” Davenport said. “We felt (Butler) became more comfortable. When he got a few games under his belt, the game started slowing down a little bit for him. It wasn't as fuzzy anymore. During the offseason we saw more improvement from him. He's showing a lot of leadership and has a better understanding of making plays off the play.”

Still, Davenport is hoping the defense complements the offense. That area is still a work in progress, but the Raiders are farther ahead of schedule.

At this point, linebacker is still a concern, but the defensive front is solid with Angel Enriquez, Logan Richardson, Johnny Martinez and Christian Smithroat, who could also see action at linebacker.

“We thought the defense caught up in the spring,” Davenport said. “We're very pleased with that. We're hoping we can continue to improve. We feel confident our kids will continue to work.”

The Raiders begin their strength and conditioning summer camp with other Taft athletes Monday, before beginning fall workouts in August.

Taft scrimmages Roosevelt before opening its season against Clemens.

Pat Turner is a San Antonio-based freelance writer.