By ROB LUDWIG / Special To The Corsicana Sun
Photos By Keith Speer
Navarro held its first spring game under new coach Jim Gush last Saturday and the Bulldogs appeared pretty salty on both sides of the ball.
Gush served a year as the Bulldog defensive coordinator before he took over the program from three-year head coach Cody Crill in January. Crill exited to become the offensive coordinator at Incarnate Word.
A longtime defensive assistant at Baylor, SMU, Kansas State and Iowa State, Gush is very familiar with junior college football. Gush spent 16 seasons at Garden City, Kan., the final three as head coach when he lead his team to a 29-7 record and three top 10 finishes in the NJCAA poll.
Gush stressed the basics during his first spring as the Bulldog head coach and he was pleased with the effort and willingness to learn from his charges.
“We had a productive spring,” Gush said after the game at Tiger Stadium. “We got something out of all 20 practices. We really worked on the fundamentals on both sides, especially our base and pad level. We stressed the fundamentals during spring practices.
Hunter McWilliams was elevated to offensive coordinator earlier this spring and the son of former University of Texas and Texas Tech Head Coach David McWilliams showed that the passing game is alive and well at Navarro.
Three Bulldog quarterbacks combined to complete 40 of 72 passes for a staggering 635 yards and six touchdowns in the spring game.
Redshirt freshman Parker McNeil logged the majority of the snaps with the first-team offense, completing 18 of 36 passes for 381 yards and five scores.
McNeil accounted for touchdown passes of 32 and 17 yards to LaDaireon Rose, a 15-yarder to Xavier Bradley and finished by slotting a throw between defenders to find Bowling Green transfer Jared Wyatt for the final score of the spring game.
Between McNeil, Houston Baptist University transfer Michael Massarella and Devin Henderson, Bulldog quarterbacks have not thrown a collegiate pass. But McNeil looked impressive at times on Saturday and Massarella (15-22-0-136) and Henderson (7-14-0-118-1) also had their moments commanding the Navarro offense.
Receiver Kaylon Geiger, who was the Bulldogs’ leading receiver over its final games on 2017, had a strong spring game. The backfield duo of Travell Lumpkin and Jeremiah Shaw combined for 93 yards on the ground. Lumpkin was a major contributor in the back half of his freshman season and Shaw redshirted after a storied career at West Orange-Stark.
“We’re going to be more Baylor was in that we’re going to spread our receivers out and make the defense adjust,” Gush said. “We’re going to commit to the run game while sticking in 20, 10 and 11 personnel (groupings).
“Offensively, we hope to run between 85 and 90 snaps a game. It’s going to be fun going at a fast pace the whole time.”
“(McNeil) has had a good spring. We split reps pretty evenly this spring. Parker has spent a year in our system and he’s been solid.”
Under Gush’s stewardship, the Bulldogs led the Southwest Junior College Football Conference in total defense after suffering from inconsistent play on that side of the ball in recent seasons.
Navarro’s defense lost four starters to Division I ball during the winter, but Gush’s system could a trend where Power 5 conferences eagerly take a peak at film and live practices during the spring.
Defensive end David Sow had a pair of sacks and Desmond Clifton, Jarrus Singleton and Jaylon Abdul-Karim also had key stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Linebacker Jacob Copeland, a second-team All-SWJCFC selection as a freshman, is flexing his leadership muscles up the middle of the Bulldog defense.
“(Fans) are going to see a disciplined football team that has great fundamentals,” Gush said. “We’re going to be disciplined so that we do not hurt ourselves.
“We had two linebackers go Division I last fall. We expect (Copeland) to join that group this after year.”