ONE STEP AT A TIME

in Football

Showing steady improvement over two seasons, the Class 2A, DII Meridian Yellowjackets seeking rise to the next level in third campaign under Morton

MERIDIAN – Make no mistake about it, the Meridian Yellowjackets have taken strides in the right direction while growing up on the gridiron over the last two seasons. And as they prepare to open the 2021 Texas high school football season, the Jackets plan to take it to the next level.

“Our expectations are playoffs,” said Meridian football head coach Wade Morton entering his third season leading the Jackets. “There is no other expectation but our own, and that’s what we’ll concentrate on. We have to do a great job of being mentally prepared and becoming better students of the game, and the schemes we need to perfect.”

The Jackets will open the season by hosting the Kerens Bobcats, picked to place second in the tough District 8-2A, DI behind 20th-ranked Italy, Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Jacket Stadium. Despite the experience of 15 returning lettermen that includes nine offensive and eight defensive starters, Meridian remains young with only two seniors on the roster. But in what the Jackets will be lacking in senior leadership and experience, Morton hopes to make up for it with overall team depth.

“We’re going to be versatile,” Morton said. “We have depth and the ability to multiple on offense and vanilla on defense.”

With the offensive skill positions capably manned with returning starters, junior John Bernal makes the move to receiver as sophomore Brayden Wehmeyer takes over at quarterback, while junior Brady Taylor returns at running back along with junior tight end Dustan Bowers, while Alejandro Rodriguez takes over at wide receiver.

In the trenches, the Jacket offensive line will be anchored by two returning starters  –  senior Paul Rivera (6-0, 260) and junior Carl Willams (6-3, 230), along with prospect Noah Alvizo.

As Meridian returns to battle in District 8-2A, Division II, the defending champion Albany Lions enter the 2021 season as the fifth-ranked team in the state followed by the 23rd-ranked Santo Wildcats.

After rolling through district undefeated in 2020, Albany advanced to the Region II semifinals while the district’s other three playoff qualifers took early exits with bi-district losses. The Jackets hope to compete with the 2020 district runnerup Cross Plains Buffaloes and the Hico Tigers for a 2021 playoff berth.

Sometimes, the best way to find out exactly where you stand can be by lining up against the best. And that’s exactly what Morton did by taking on the 2020 Class 2A, DI state semifinalist Crawford Pirates in Meridian’s first scrimmage.

“We were able to move the ball, and we were very pleased with the players effort,” Meridian football head coach Wade Morton said. “We were pleased with the players’ effort and sense of urgency.”

Consequently, the Jackets found that out from the first snap. Going into Morton’s third season at the helm in Meridian, the Jackets remain a work-in-progress while showing steady improvement over the last two years.

Fielding a young, but experienced squad, Meridian’s effort against the Pirates reflected exactly that, improving as the scrimmage went along.

“It’s great to be able to have two scrimmages again,” said Morton after being limited to only one scrimmage before the 2020 season due to Covid protocols. “We’re looking forward to some drastic improvement before the season begins.”

Although Meridian has not qualified for the postseason since 2017, the Jackets have a rich Texas high school football tradition dating back to 1916 – four seasons before the University Interscholastic League even existed.

While posting an impressive all-time 536-392-36 win-loss-tie record for a .560 winning percentage, the Jackets have qualified for the postseason 26 times and won 16 district titles.

With the slogan “Restore the Swarm,” Morton returned to his Bosque County roots to take his first head coaching job at Meridian in 2019 with the plan to rebuild the tradition-rich Yellowjacket football program from the ground up.

“We knew everything was going to be a challenge,” said Morton, who graduated from Clifton High School in 1995 before attending Tarleton State University and graduating in 2000.  “We have to be consistent all the way from the top and let it trickle from there.  We as coaches have to hold ourselves accountable and practice what we always preach — be where your feet are.”

After learning real-time lessons in scrimmages against Crawford and Italy, the Jackets will turn their attention to their season opener Aug. 27 when Meridian hosts the Kerens Bobcats on Parent Night at Jacket Stadium.

“It’s great to just have kids back in general,” Morton said. “It’s as normal as it’s going to get and kids are excited about going to the next level.”

Be sure to pick up a copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 2021 BOSQUE COUNTRY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW published by The Clifton Record & Meridian Tribune on newsstands this week.

Photos by ASHLEY BARNER & courtesy of Bosque County Publishing

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