IRVING, Texas - Sitting in an office at Nimitz High School in Irving, Texas, one weekday morning during the spring, the energy and excitement of head coach Steve Hohenberger flows out of him as he speaks about the young men in this program.
It's not hard to understand how he sees potential.
Hohenberger was at Nimitz for eight seasons before grabbing the head coach job in 2006. He was replacing long-time head coach Mike Farda, who guided the Nimitz football program for 26. He was the same coach that had a career record of 159-101-8 in those 26 seasons and was head coach when Nimitz made its first playoff appearance in 1982.
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Hohenberger, a defensive coordinator under Farda, likes a challenge because it's taken some time to build up depth and experience. Last season was disappointing with just one win, but after just a few minutes of chatting with Hohenberger, you can feel the readiness in the eyes of this young head coach.
It also doesn't hurt that you have players returning like senior safety Eddrick Loften.
"These kids just have 'it,'" Hohenberger said one morning in his office. "What is it? I don't know, but 'it' is the way they carry themselves on the field… they're competitors."
When you've got a senior this fall playing safety like Loften, it's easy for any coach to see big potential with both experience and talent.
If you ask the talented Loften, known as an intelligent safety who creates big hits on the highlight film, he says the bond comes from growing up together as seniors. That process, on and off the field, makes this 2009 team worth watching.
"We've been in the program for three years, going into our fourth year and we're seeing that there really weren't leaders," Loften said. "That's the biggest part we have to work on is team chemistry and I think we've got that down."
Oklahoma grabbed Loften's commitment earlier this year and it's a place he felt most comfortable with.
"It was just the environment here, the fans and everything," Loften said. "Everybody was an Oklahoma Sooner fan. I just felt welcome down there. It's like family. All the coaches welcomed me and brought me in."
Loften won't be the only senior to have to make a decision on a scholarship offer. Senior defensive tackle Damon Williams has now added his first three scholarship offers from Houston, Tulsa and Nebraska.
His coach has high praise for Williams, who really drew all of his notice this past spring.
"I think the first thing with Damon is, he understands the game," Hohenberger said. "He plays smart, understands offenses, and takes proper angles. We've known that since his ninth grade year. I think what's made a big difference; going into his senior year is he's been in the off-season program a little more. I think physically he has not been as strong in his core and strength to allow him to play at such a consistent level."
Running back Deonte Myrick will make a shift from running back to the linebacker position, where his coach said months ago that a lot of college coaches liked him at. So far, Myrick has picked up interest from Kansas and Ole Miss. The 6-foot, 205-pounder says that Ole Miss could be the first to offer, if he had to guess.
Linebacker Beau Burkhalter couldn't participate in the spring with a knee injury, but will be ready to show his stuff this summer at camps and in the fall. Air Force and New Mexico are showing interest, but he's high on TCU where he has family connections. He plans on attending a camp at the nearby school to show his stuff this summer.
But what makes things even more interesting about the 2009 season, is that it will be a chance for a solid group of juniors to make their names known before the 2010 season as well.
Top 2011 prospects at Nimitz, like quarterback/athlete J.J. Gaines, Glenn McQuinney, and Darrell Dozier will certainly be ones to keep an eye on.
Hohenberger's excitement level rises again when he's asked about these players who are on the rise on and off the field with their hard work.
"J.J. Gaines, as a sophomore, was on a team that wasn't very successful," Hohenberger began to explain. "But J.J. ended up almost having 1,000 rushing and 1,000 passing… Then we go into the off-season, and he just starts right back up working hard. Then he runs on the JV track team, a kid who could say, 'hey I'm the varsity star quarterback – I can run on the varsity track team…' but says he'll do whatever is asked of him.
"He goes out and wins the 200 at the JV track meet…is on the winning 4x100 and 4x200 teams."
The Nimitz head coach then started about two more prospects who have shown their speed in track and they've brought that ability to the football field.
"Glenn McQuinney is another prime example. He played on the JV this last year (as a sophomore) but he's always been a winner," the coach said. "He's very aggressive at cornerback with some range and I think his strength, evolution is going to come with more off-season training. He was a regional qualifier on the 4x400 team… and a straight A student.
"Darrell Dozier, you see him he's about 6-1, he's lean right now but he won the 200 at the district track meet. Has great ball skills at the receiver and DB positions. He's another great student with great character."
Regardless of all the talent on the roster or the excitement for the season, Hohenberger wants his team to understand that the time put in to be successful will make a big impact on this upcoming fall.
"We had a few players over the last three weeks, players come into my office that were in that senior class, that basically turned it in and went for different reasons," Hohenberger said. "I told the players in our last meeting, 'that's why that is happening is because you all have raised the expectations now. The uncommitted are sensing that you're serious. Their leadership is making an impact where you're either in or out."