As Grayson Muehlstein led the Decatur Eagles to the third round of the playoffs last season, piling up more than 4,500 all-purpose yards and accounting for 58 passing and rushing scores, Justin Myers watched and took notes.
Now, it’s the senior’s turn to take over as the Eagles’ offensive leader.
“It’s pretty exciting. It was cool to play behind Grayson last year,” Myers said. “Now, I can implement the things I learned from watching Grayson.”
Myers knows following a two-year starter and Division I quarterback is a large job. But he’s not worried about trying to measure up to the 6-4, 210-pound Muehlstein. Instead the 5-9, 150-pound Myers is only focused on being the best quarterback he can be.
“I’ve always had good chemistry with the guys,” Myers said. “I’m able to just be myself. The guys know that I have the leadership mentality. I have earned respect from the guys.”
Along with taking over for one of the program’s top quarterbacks, Myers is working in a new offense with a new coaching staff. He and the entire Decatur offense is learning Mike Fuller’s spread offense that has produced big numbers at stops at Colleyville Heritage and Coppell.
Myers said it’s been an easy adjustment so far learning the new offense, which also fits his strengths as a passer.
“The coaches know what they are talking about and are easy to learn from,” he explained. “[The offense] works well for me. They’ve purposefully made it fit me with the read options.”
With his 4.6 speed, which had him on the Eagles’ relay teams in the spring, Myers can attack defenses with his feet and arm.
“If you watched me on JV, when I was most comfortable was with the zone reads and options,” Myers said. “I’m real excited about the possibilities in this offense.”
But along with his ability to make plays, Myers said his biggest strength is providing leadership and stability to a unit with several new starters.
“A quarterback has to be the leader,” Myers said. “It’s something I’ve put effort into. It’s a responsibility and privilege to be in this position.”
And he’s ready for his turn.
4-4A DIVISION I
1. Graham – The Steers played in the final two weeks of the season last year and return seven starters on each side of the ball. The Steers’ defense will be the best in the league with safety Mike Freeze, defensive end Dustin McWhorter and linebacker Bohner Cottongame.
2. Gainesville – The Leopards return dynamic playmaker Demarrius Farr at running back and linebacker. With the tandem of Farr and quarterback Mason Copeland, Gainesville will be a handful for everyone.
3. Decatur – The Eagles are learning a new offense and defense under head coach Mike Fuller. But a strong offensive line and the steady leadership of Justin Myers at quarterback will put Decatur in the playoff hunt.
4. Burkburnett – The Bulldogs have one of the league’s best dual threats at quarterback in Bryan Lewis. Burkburnett will need to piece together a rebuilding defense with one starter back.
5. Hirschi – The Huskies went 7-4 last year to make the playoffs. The road back to the postseason may become longer with 1,500-yard back Cedric Battle’s status uncertain.
6. Mineral Wells – The Rams won one game last year. Mineral Wells does have eight starters back on each side of the ball.
The Decatur Eagles graduated dynamic playmakers all through the lineup last year. Here’s a look at some of last year’s leaders and the leading returners.
2013: Grayson Muehlstein, 220-350-12, 3,079 yards 35 TDs
2014: Justin Myers, 13-20-1, 187 yards 1 TD
2013: Grayson Muehlstein, 180-1,462 yards 18 TDs
2014: Eddie Martinez, 151-621 yards
2013: Cain Lowe, 90-1,485 yards 22 TDs
2014: Eddie Martinez 11-79 yards
EAGLES START FRESH
The Decatur Eagles made their deepest journey into the playoffs since 2004 last season, reaching the third round during a 9-4 campaign.
“Last year was great,” recalled Decatur senior defensive end Matt Cedrone.
But much has changed since the Eagles’ season-ending loss to Tyler Chapel Hill in the Class 3A Region II Division I regional matchup. The Eagles graduated Division I quarterback Grayson Muehlstein, who is now at Texas Christian University, an all-state receiver in Cain Lowe and several other starters.
Decatur also experienced a change at the top as Kyle Story, who had been at the school since 1999, left to start the program at Frisco Independence.
The Eagles are now led by former Colleyville Heritage coach Mike Fuller, who accepted the job in the spring. He takes over at Decatur after posting a 60-19 record at Heritage and taking the program to the playoffs for seven straight seasons.
Fuller also spent seven seasons at Coppell and has a career record of 109-49.
“It’s a great community and a one-school town,” Fuller said about Decatur. “It was also a chance to be an (athletic director) and take over a program with good tradition. This school has a history of being successful.”
Fuller downplays the changes to the roster.
“Every year you start over whether you are at a new school or not,” he explained. “I have always felt that every year you rebuild. No two teams are alike.”
The biggest obstacle for Fuller and his staff has been installing a brand-new offense and defense in a few weeks before the season opener. He was able to get in a little work in the spring after arriving but did not have his entire staff.
“I love the attitude of the kids. They are working hard, don’t question anything and give great effort every day,” Fuller said. “The big difference is that 95 percent of the guys are going both ways and the fact that they are learning new systems on both sides of the ball.”
The Eagles are running Fuller’s up-tempo, spread offense.
Senior quarterback Justin Myers said the offense fits the personnel and his strengths to run the zone read and make throws on the run.
“It can be a great offense. A lot of people are working hard,” Myers said.
Defensively, the Eagles will run a 3-4 and let their speedy linebackers – Jacob Kevetter and Cole Vaughan – come up to make plays.
“It’s a completely new defense. It’ll fit well with our type of people,” Kevetter said.
With all the changes, the Eagles may take a while before they soar.
“Because of the installation, we’re behind other teams,” Fuller said. “But you don’t get trophies for scrimmages or non-district games. Our goal is to be ready for the sixth ballgame and be hitting on all cylinders when district starts.”
In non-district, the Eagles face three playoff teams from 2013 – Springtown, Alvarado and Carrollton Ranchview. But including Iowa Park and Bridgeport, the five went a combined 21-33 last season.
In their new 4-4A Division I, Decatur will square off against Burkburnett, Mineral Wells and Wichita Falls Hirschi to start league play. Hirschi and Burkburnett reached the bi-district round of the playoffs a year ago.
The Eagles wrap up district with a tough slate, facing Gainesville, who went 11-1 last year. In the league closer, the Eagles play Graham, the 2013 state semifinalist who starts the year ranked No. 3 in 4A.
“We’re going to focus on us and what we can control – our preparation and effort,” Fuller said.
With all the adjustments, what hasn’t changed is the team’s expectations.
“It’s a tough district, but we’ll put the work in,” Cedrone said. “We’ll be fine.”
On their way to the third round of the playoffs, the Decatur Eagles’ offense piled up huge chunks of yards.
Decatur averaged 499 yards of offense – 234 rushing and 265 passing – behind now-TCU freshman Grayson Muehlstein at quarterback and playmaking receivers Cain Lowe and Austin Givens.
With new faces at many of the skilled positions, the Eagles hope to match last year’s explosiveness on offense to get back to the playoffs.
“I still feel it can be an explosive offense, especially with the line that we have. We’re going to be able to help a lot,” said Decatur center Jacob Hartsell.
The offense will change some under new head coach Mike Fuller, who is bringing his up-tempo, spread system from Colleyville Heritage. During an 8-3 campaign last year, Fuller’s Panthers averaged 361 yards per game. The team averaged 450 yards per game in 2012, going 11-2.
Fuller said the Eagle offense will be versatile with the ability to run and pass.
“We’ll take what the defense allows,” Fuller said. “If a team wants to drop eight to slow the passing game, we’ll run. If we need to run 55 times or throw 55 times, I’ve done both.”
He added that tempo is important, and it’s taking time to get that speedy pace injected as players learn the new offense.
“We’re still at the point where we’re thinking instead of reacting,” Fuller said. “It’s like learning the guitar. At first you’re staring at the frets, and then one day with practice you can just play and not have to think about it.”
Up front the Eagles are in capable hands with Hartsell at center and returning guard Dakota Williams.
A third returning lineman, Rickey Roberts suffered a season-ending injury in the team’s first scrimmage. Graham Cowdrey and Terry Hogan are working at the open spot.
Hartsell said the line is ready to be the foundation for the unit that is breaking in several skilled players.
“We are going to step up more,” he said.
Senior Justin Myers takes over at quarterback after serving as Muehlstein’s backup last year. Myers threw for 187 yards, completing 13 of his 20 attempts. He ran for 291 yards and four touchdowns.
“I’m ready to get in there and prove I was a big part of what we did last year,” Myers said.
In the Eagles’ scrimmage against Kennedale, Myers went 14-for-22 for 278 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Returning in the backfield with Myers is Eddie Martinez, who rushed for 621 yards a year ago. Freshman Mario Reyes will also get the ball after turning in an impressive first scrimmage against Kennedale.
The Eagles graduated their top three receivers. But Myers is quick to point out that Decatur will have plenty of options in the passing game with Gunnar Parker, Ryan Durdon, Payton McAlister, Jacob Kevetter and Carsen Medlin.
“We have good guys playing receiver,” Myers said.
Fuller said receptions will likely be spread between several guys.
“We have good speed at receiver. It’s a matter of getting them more sure-handed,” Fuller said.
The offense may not need to match last year’s numbers, but it will need to be consistent to get the Eagles back to the playoffs.
The Decatur Eagles’ defense made enough plays last year to support the team’s explosive offense.
The unit allowed 393 yards per game and five times surrendered more than 500 yards, including 656 in the season-ending playoff loss to Tyler Chapel Hill in the regional round of the Class 3A Division I playoffs.
But it also held two opponents – Iowa Park and Krum – under 200 yards and limited Iowa Park, Bridgeport and Wilmer-Hutchins to a single score each.
A year older and with the majority of the starters back in the fold, the Eagles expect the defense to be better.
“It’s going to be a good defense,” said defensive lineman Matt Cedrone. “Our offense will still be very productive. But we want to be more of a shutdown defense.”
The Eagles will base out of the 3-4.
“We can adjust how we need to,” said Decatur coach Mike Fuller.
The Eagles return two of their three leading tacklers from last year – Cole Vaughan and Jacob Kevetter. Vaughan is back in the middle of the Decatur defense after making 143 tackles to become a 9-3A first-team selection and Wise County Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Senior Kyle Carr is at the other inside backer spot.
Kevetter moved from safety to outside linebacker. He led the Eagles with 169 tackles.
“I like trying new things. It’s like what I did last year,” Kevetter said about the move.
Mason Baur is working at the other outside linebacker spot.
Up front, Fuller said the Eagles are relying on a committee of players, including several who are starting on the offensive line.
Decatur will have plenty of speed at the back end of the defense. Carsen Medlin is working at safety along with Tyler Ticknor and Payton McAlister.
“Medlin is doing a real good job,” Fuller said.
Brandon Garza and Aaron Shetter are manning the cornerback spots. Garza picked off a pass during the Eagles’ scrimmage against Kennedale.
The Eagles hope the defense can find consistency this season to help lead the way back to the postseason.
“Last year, we started slow,” Kevetter said. “We need to be more consistent.”
2 … Tyler Ticknor … 10 … QB/DB
3 … Tanner Shields … 12 … WR
4 … Justin Myers … 12 … QB
5 … Aaron Shetter … 12 … WR/DB
6 … Jacob Kevetter … 12 … WR/DB
7 … Gunnar Parker … 11 … WR/DB
8 … Addison Nation … 11 … WR/DB
9 … Erik Rocha … 12 … OLB/RB
10 … Coy Johnson … 11 … WR/DB
11 … Jake Kemp … 11 … QB
12 … Jorge Martinez … 11 … WR/DB
13 … Payton McAlister … 10 … WR/DB
16 … Felix Guerrero … 12 … WR/DE
19 … Ryan Durdon … 11 … WR/DB
21 … Eddie Martinez … 12 … RB/DB
22 … Carsen Medlin … 12 … WR/DB
23 … Mario Reyes … 9 … RB
24 … Cole Vaughan … 11 … LB/WR
25 … Brandon Garza … 11 … WR/DB
26 … Bryson Allen … 11 … WR/LB
27 … Morgan Mote … 11 … WR/LB
30 … Cole Lynch … 11 … WR/DB
32 … Ridge Reynolds … 12 … LB/RB
33 … Mason Baur … 11 … WR/OLB
34 … Trey Wadlington … 11 … WR/DB
35 … Kyle Carr … 12 … LB
36 … Luke Thomas … 11 … WR/DB
42 … Leo Lopez … 12 … RB/DB
45 … Leo Fernandez … 12 … OLB/RB
46 … Tucker Schuring … 11 … LB/RB
49 … Brock Reeves … 12 … OLB
53 … Matt Cedrone … 12 … OL/DL
54 … Nolan Stone … 12 … OL/DL
55 … Cody McElhaney … 12 … OL/DL
56 … Rayse Robinson … 11 … OL/DL
58 … Brandon Clowers … 11 … OL/DL
59 … Dakota Williams … 12 … OL/DL
60 … Brandon Hailey … 11 … OL/DL
62 … Nate Watkins … 11 … OL/DL
63 … Aaron Sears … 11 … OL/DL
64 … Leighton Brooks … 11 … OL/DL
65 … Nick Johnson … 12 … OL/DL
68 … Ricky Dunkin … 11 … DL
70 … Nick Rios … 12 … OL/DL
71 … Terry Lee Hogan … 10 … OL/DL
73 … Chris Newberry … 11 … OL/DL
74 … Rickey Roberts … 12 … OL/DL
75 … Daniel Flores … 12 … OL/DL
76 … Jacob Hartsell … 12 … OL/DL
78 … Blake Hailey … 12 … OL/DL
79 … Graham Cowdrey … 12 … OL/DL
82 … Mike Ramos … 12 … WR/DB
Aug. 29 … Springtown … Away … 7:30
Sept. 6 … Alvarado# … Away … 3:30
Sept. 12 … Iowa Park … Away … 7:30
Sept. 19 … Ranchview (HC) … Home … 7:30
Sept. 26 … Bridgeport … Home … 7:30
Oct. 3 … Open
Oct. 10 … *Burkburnett … Home … 7:30
Oct. 17 … *Mineral Wells … Away … 7:30
Oct. 24 … *WF Hirschi … Home … 7:30
Oct. 31 … *Gainesville … Home … 7:30
Nov. 7 … *Graham … Away … 7:30
# Dale Hansen Classic at Waxahachie
* Denotes District 4-4A Div. I game
Trinity 49, Decatur 13
Decatur 35, Springtown 28
Decatur 41, Burkburnett 38
Decatur 45, WF Hirschi 29
Decatur 42, Iowa Park 7
Alvarado 31, Decatur 27
Gainesville 48, Decatur 23
Decatur 41, Krum 14
Decatur 52, Bridgeport 7
Decatur 56, Sanger 53
Decatur 62, Ranchview 34
Decatur 48, Wilmer-Hutchins 7
Tyler Chapel Hill 55, Decatur 40
Final record – 9-4