Kell and Walton have previously met six times and the Raiders have won five of those matchups. This year’s showdown marks the first time since 2009 that the teams will play.
Both teams have coaches entering their fourth season — Brett Sloan took the Kell head coaching job in 2017 and has led the Longhorns to the playoffs in each of his three seasons. Daniel Brunner began coaching Walton in 2017 and has led the Raiders to the second round in each of his three seasons.
Kell enters the year after a 9-3 finish in 2019 and will need to focus on developing experience in multiple areas of the game.
“The biggest thing is we got to get some young guys up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage we believe in and we believe they can do it but you know, they haven’t necessarily been put in that situation yet on both offense and defense,” Sloan said. “There’s always some question marks there until you go do it. But we got the guys that we feel are very capable and you know, we feel confident in our skill guys.”
Kell returns the bulk of its experience on the offensive side of the ball. At quarterback, Corbin LaFrance, who was 151-of-281 passing for 2,366 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, returns for his senior season. In the backfield, senior Tyler Barrett and sophomore David Mbadinga will be the anchors. As a freshman, Mbadinga had 193 carries for 1,318 yards and 11 touchdowns while Barrett had 48 carries for 400 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We have several guys who are really good high school football players and are going to have a successful college playing career,” Sloan said. “So you know, that’s kind of where we are. Obviously, David’s (Mbadinga) special, but he is not the only good player we have on our offense. We have got a lot of good players. Jamal Hill is good. Jalen Browns is an exceptionally good player, Tyler Barrett is great. We are confident in our skill guys.’
The key for Kell is, well, reps. Experience. Gameplay.
“We just have to kind of grow up on the lines of scrimmage a little bit,” Sloan said after the disrupted offseason regarding COVID-19. “But with that said, we do have a couple returning seniors who have started some games on the offensive line, and we feel good about them. So hopefully they can kind of be the leaders of that group and pull it together.”
Walton returns to the field after its worst season under coach Brunner. The 6-6 finish and second round exit left a bad taste in the Raiders’ mouths and entering the year, the Raiders have a lot to prove.
Junior quarterback Zak Rozsman returns with experience at the quarterback spot. Junior wide receiver Rawson Macniel, senior tight end Stone McKnight and senior Nic Hester handle receiving duties. In the backfield, Kenny Djaha and Ryan Polinski will handle most of the rushing responsibilities. Senior Patrick O’Connell, junior Evan Bax, senior Nick Makuch, senior Tannor Daniels and junior Ryan Purves front the offensive attack.
While neither the Longhorns or the Raiders have had their normal full offseasons to prepare for their first game under the lights on Friday night, both their missions remain clear and prominent. A strong start for the Longhorns will set the tone for their upcoming game against Hillgrove, while hopefully shedding some light on the players that deserve more in-game reps. A victory for the Raiders puts them one step further from their first losing season since 2016.