Though the Red Elephants pulled away in the fourth for a victory, it was the only time the eventual state champion was challenged during its entire playoff run.
As Kell headed into spring practice, the memory of that playoff loss provided good and bad news.
The bad news is that Gainesville’s Deshaun Watson, a five-star recruit committed to Clemson, will be back at quarterback for the Red Elephants. The good news, however, is that Kell’s defense will likely be good enough to earn a postseason rematch somewhere down the road.
Heading into the 2012 season, Kell was considered to have one of, if not the best, defensive backfields in the state — regardless of classification. And though two starters from that unit — Brendan Langley and Quincy Mauger — are now at Georgia, three — Taylor Henkle, Julian Burris and Jay Moxey — will be back to lead the defense in 2013.
Henkle and Moxey both started last season and combined for 115 tackles and six interceptions. Burris, meanwhile, overcame a midseason injury to return to his role of playing for the other four whenever they needed a break or were playing extended minutes on offense.
Those three, along with Ethan Elliot, who had 10 sacks on the defensive line, will be the keys to a Kell defense that held six teams to eight points or fewer in 2012.
“Defensively, we should be pretty good,” Kell coach Derek Cook said. “We may be a little young at linebacker, but we should be pretty good.”
The big question this spring, came on the other side of the ball.
The Longhorns graduated their entire offensive line, and Cook said much of the spring practice period was focused on finding the players that will keep quarterback Matthew McGuigan upright.
McGuigan finished last season as the fifth-leading passer in the county with 1,820 yards, and added 20 touchdowns to only nine interceptions. But even with all the success he had leading an offense that averaged 36.4 points over the final 10 games of the season, Cook said McGuigan split the reps this spring with Cameron Rosendahl.
“Both have a really good grasp of the offense,” Cook said. “You could start either one and not be wrong. It’s competition, and they both understand the situation.”
While Cook was trying to find the new starters to fill the spots of the graduating seniors, his biggest challenge may be trying to find a replacement for assistant coach Doug Orebaugh, who retired from coaching.
The longtime defensive coach, who spent the last five years at Kell, was named defensive coordinator by the Cobb County Touchdown Club in 2006, ’09 and ’11. Last year, he served as the Longhorns’ linebackers coach.
The fall will mark the first time in nearly four decades Orebaugh will not be on a sideline when the football season starts.
“His voice will be missed,” Cook said.