HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Vandegrift not resting on last season's success

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It's easy to look at Vandegrift's record-breaking season last year and expect more of the same.

The Vipers went undefeated during the regular season and won the district title for the first time in school history. They advanced past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in Class 6A before losing to Longview in the third round.

It was a successful year, but the biggest question for head coach Drew Sanders is whether they do it again.

"I'm looking forward to seeing if our guys can stay hungry," Sanders said. "If you aren't mentally strong enough, success can make you weak and make you think you've arrived. That's what I hope our guys come back with is some pride and some hunger."

Even with the burning question of repeated success, Sanders said once the football banquet was over in January, it was in the past. And last year's success doesn't have much to do with the success of this season.

That sentiment is reflected in his players, who mostly gained confidence from last year.

"We know we've been there and we know what takes to get there," senior quarterback Dru Dawson said. "We build off of that and get better. A lot of teammates are feeling the same way. Everyone is super excited to progress. Being the top dogs, everybody is going to be gunning for us."

Dawson is the catalyst of the Vipers' offense along with returning senior receiver Trey Mongauzy.

Dawson threw for nearly 2,500 yards in his junior season, and Mongauzy was his favorite receiver, catching 68 passes for 886 yards and 10 touchdowns. The next four receivers from last year are gone via graduation, and Dru's brother Beau is moving to slot receiver to give them another threat.

Sanders said Dawson's confidence has taken a step up entering this season and the senior quarterback has seen an attitude adjustment himself.

"Just being that leader on the team and being able to get guys to rally is the biggest difference," Dawson said. "Just leading this team as best as I can, that's my main goal. I'm really excited with this group of guys. Just to go out with this group, we're excited."

As will all high school teams, the offensive line is going to be incredibly important, and the Vipers have two all-district players in Harrison Witt and James Collyer returning on an experienced offensive line.

Sanders said one of the biggest places he needs people to step up on offense is in the backfield after the departures of Isaiah Smallwood and Brendan Bennett.

Vandegrift was the top defensive team in District 13-6A last season, holding teams to 13.1 points per game.

All-state linebacker Jax McCauley returns as do Ty Mongauzy and J.J. Parker leading a stacked secondary. The sub-varsity Viper teams went 39-1 last year, so the talent pool is deep on the defensive side of the ball.

"We're not always the biggest, but we always play hard and that's what we're known for," Mongauzy said. "As last season went along, we kind of started looking at all these teams and what they were scoring and we just want to keep it going. It's a good goal to have."

The district is expected to remain just as tough as it was last year with teams that missed the playoffs returning starters and coming off incredibly good spring and summer UIL sanctioned events.

With not much staff turnover and anther roster loaded with talent, the Vipers figure to be right in the mix, challenging for yet another district title.

"We can't take a team for granted," Mongauzy said. "We're going to get a lot of the other team's best effort and there's a big target on our back. Coach Sanders likes being that team in the district and the team to beat."

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