For fans filing into Eagle Stadium on Thursday in anticipation of the Allen football team’s annual spring game, plenty had changed since the last time many of those same spectators saw the Eagles take their final bow during the 2020 season.
That campaign was halted in the regional semifinal round of the playoffs in a 49-45 defeat to Euless Trinity on Dec. 26. In the months that followed, a new era on the gridiron ushered in for the state’s largest high school — the retirement of head coach Terry Gambill, the hiring of Chad Morris as his successor, a plethora of new coaches on staff, and a clean slate for a program that has captured five UIL state championships since 2008.
That has meant plenty of change for the Eagles as they soldier through the offseason. As the final huddle broke out after Thursday’s spring game, it’s how the players have handled that transition that impressed Morris as much as anything over the course of his first couple of months on campus.
“I think we had a great spring. From getting here April 1 and then starting spring football 20 days later, all while trying to hire coaches, these guys were incredible,” Morris said. “They overcame a lot. I knew that in taking over a great program — coach Gambill did such an incredible job and so have these coaches — the expectations are never going to change. We’re going to hold the standard of winning here and winning championships.”
Allen has been taking the first steps in that process since April 22 when it began spring practices. Rigorous as the preparations have been in the weeks that followed, Thursday’s spring finale was intended to be on the lighter side.
“Spring games are more about having some fun,” Morris said. “It’s about them coming out and getting to showcase some stuff for the parents and fans. We were real simple tonight by design — just an opportunity to get guys some catches and some good evaluation heading into the summer.”
Morris and his coaching staff also assured that anyone suited up on Thursday stayed busy. After opening the evening with a series of positional drills, the Eagles conducted two scrimmages at once — devoting half the field to the first- and second-string players and the other half to the program’s third- and fourth-stringers.
“We wanted everybody to be getting reps. It’s how we’ve done it all spring long,” Morris said. “People have gotten plenty of reps, plenty of evaluation and we wanted to carry that forward tonight.”
Allen siphoned through drives that began at the 40-yard line, alternating units and giving fans a cursory look at the Eagles’ progression under their new coaching staff. Offensive players donned blue jerseys, while the defense wore white. The four quarterbacks who saw time on Thursday — Mike Hawkins, Thomas Landry, Evan Bullock and Noah Kimball — all sported red jerseys. As is typical for any scrimmage, plays were blown dead at the chance of any contact made with the signal-callers.
As the Eagles devoted the majority of the evening to scrimmaging, the early returns favored an offense that mounted multiple scoring drives.
“It’s been off and on. Tonight was a good night for that group. We’ve had some growing pains and there’s still a ways to go, but they’ve shown some promise,” Morris said.
Hawkins took the reins of the first-team offense and marched that unit downfield before finding Reco Jackson in the end zone from 12 yards out for a highlight-reel grab that saw the pass-catcher haul in the ball and maintain possession after being dumped over the shoulder of an Allen defender while in midair.
Jackson was on the receiving end of a second touchdown catch a few drives later, and running back Jaylen Jenkins got in on the mix by converting a touchdown run near the goal line.
Jenkins is one of the only lone skill position returners from an offense that averaged 491.7 yards and 45.2 points, surrounded by plenty of new faces as positional battles wage on to fill openings at quarterback and within the receiving corps. Hawkins and Landry alternated reps under center, while popular targets out wide included Jordan Roberson and Jordyn Tyson, the latter transferring from Frisco Independence after submitting an all-district campaign as a junior with the Knights.
The Eagles are plenty stocked in the trenches with familiar names like Jackson Newville, Neto Umeozulu and Austin Lopez returning on the offensive line.
Several of those mainstays were limited to one drive once Allen merged the two groups and scrimmaged across the entirety of the field over the final 30 minutes of the spring game. The first-team offense bested the defense on that opening series, with Hawkins finding Jenkins for a touchdown; dump-offs and short passes to running backs were fixtures in Allen’s offense on Thursday.
“We like trying to get those guys out in space. We’ve got some talented running backs and want to make sure we get them some space to work with,” Morris said.
Stanley Okpulor and Hunter Hill added long touchdown receptions before the game concluded as well, although the defense did have its say on occasion. Trent Wheeler capitalized on a miscommunication with an interception, the Eagles recovered a fumble near the goal line to stall the second drive of the evening, and Greg Hawkins drew “oohs” from the crowd following an acrobatic pass break-up.
“I’m proud of these young men for having a good spring. We’ve got a long way to go, but they’ve shown some promise,” Morris said.
As Allen prepares to ramp up its activity during the summer, complete with its annual gamut of strength and conditioning workouts through The Performance Course, the Eagles won’t next put on pads until Aug. 14 — the first day the UIL will allow full contact during practice. Allen opens its 2021 season on familiar grounds, playing in the Tom Landry Classic on its home field on Aug. 27 against former district foe Plano East.