STORY BY: TIM SCHNETTLER
– NAVASOTA – The 2011 football season ended two weeks too soon for the Navasota Rattlers, but with a wealth of experience returning for 2012, the Rattlers are hoping to play longer this time around.
The Rattlers, who are ranked a lofty No. 5 in preseason polls, open the season Friday night at 7:30 at Berton A. Yates Stadium against the Willis Wildkats.
Last season the Rattlers suffered a heart-breaking 35-28 loss at Willis, getting stopped at the Willis’ 1-yard line on the final play of the game. The loss, however, seemed to be the spark the team needed as the Rattlers ran off 10 straight victories until losing 56-46 in the Region III championship to eventual state champion Chapel Hill.
“For our kids to come back and have a chance on the last play of the game to tie or win it, was outstanding,” said Navasota head coach Lee Fedora. .”I think that [the Willis game] was a turning point in our season. It takes a game like that every now and then to get you going in the right direction.”
The Rattlers run last season was engineered by junior quarterback Kadarius Baker, who grabbed hold of the starting role after a battle during two-a-days, and never relinquished it.
In his first season leading the Rattler offense, Baker threw for 3,074 yards and an eye-opening 40 touchdowns, with just three interceptions. Baker is back for his senior season, and in the Rattlers’ two scrimmages looked even better than he did last season. Baker is the preseason pick for the District 18-3A Offensive MVP by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
“Kadarius stepped in and got better as the year went on,” Fedora said. “To think you would end the season with 40 touchdown and just three interceptions, unbelievable numbers. You could see the momentum in the players on offense and see the confidence of Kadarius [grow as the season went on].”
Baker has the comfort of returning all-state receiver Solomon McGinty (1,342 yards and 17 TDs) and fellow wide out Austin Collins (892 yards, 13 TDs).
If the Rattler passing attack is grounded, Fedora can always turn to the running game where Howard Horn, who had 587 rushing yards and five touchdowns, returns for his senior season.
On the other side of the ball, the Rattler defense is just as, if not more stacked than its offensive counterpart. Seven starters return from a unit that allowed an average of just 17.5 points per game.
In two scrimmages this season against Sealy and Montgomery, the Rattler defense did not allow any points.
“I put a lot of pressure on our defense and our defensive coaches,” Fedora said. “I believe our year is going to go by how our defense plays.”
Anchoring the defense is linebacker Will Imhoff, who posted 163 tackles, including 23 for loss, on his way to earning district MVP honors. He is joined by defensive end Jake Bauer who had 117 tackles, including 13 sacks and linebacker Jaylyin Minor, who finished 2011 as the team’s second-leading tackler.