By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (June 14, 2017) — Sure, Stephenville head football coach Greg Winder was excited about having quarterback Easton Jones returning as a third-year starter, but faced with the loss of Jones, the third-year head coach also says his team will be “just fine” with backup suddenly turned starter Tyler Schouten at the helm of the offense.
Jones reportedly heard a pop and felt pain in his right elbow – his throwing arm – following his seventh pitch of a select-team baseball game Tuesday, and was initially diagnosed with a torn ulna collateral ligament (UCL) that will require the ever-dreadful Tommy John surgery. The Jones family is seeking a second opinion next week from a doctor affiliated with the Texas Rangers.
In the meantime, the Yellow Jacket football team is the first of three Stephenville High School sports squads that has to plan for life without Jones, and for Winder, that means preparing Schouten, a junior, who started on the junior varsity team last season, for the bright lights of Friday night.
“Tyler knows our offense and is comfortable taking command in our offense,” said Winder Wednesday afternoon. “We have to work on his passing form some things of that nature, but we’re going to be fine.”
Winder said it’s at times like this that the effectiveness of the junior varsity development program.
“It’s huge that he was able to get every rep with our JV team last year, because that’s what the JV is for, to prepare kids for when the moment comes that they are needed on the varsity,” said Winder. “Because of an unfortunate injury, Tyler’s time has come a year earlier than expected, but being the starting quarterback here is what he has always been working for and what we’ll have him ready for when the season begins.”
Schouten has seen a lot of reps this summer with the varsity 7-on-7 football team, including all of them when Stephenville hosted its regular weekly round of scrimmages Tuesday. Schouten also basically split time with Jones in the Brock qualifier, where the Jackets competed only in pool play and went 3-0. They could not advance to the state tournament qualifier game in Brock because they had already punched their ticket to state a week prior in the Gatesville qualifier. Stephenville was 4-0 in McGregor and Gatesville that weekend, and Schouten saw a significant number of snaps in games that Jones and the starters had already put on ice.
“I know a lot of people complain about 7-on-7 and say it’s just touch football,” said Winder. “But it’s throwing and catching against a defense, and that’s exactly what Tyler needs as much of as he can get right now.”
Regardless who takes snaps for Stephenville, he will have a strong group of receivers and other offensive weapons around him.
“Absolutely, I love our group of receivers, they are a great group of hard working kids and they’re talented,” said Winder of Blake Aragon, Kyle Lindsey and company. “Tyler is still going to get the ball to those guys and help them make big plays.”
Junior running back Krece Nowak is a returning starter who will help rushing and receiving, and Winder says the biggest key hasn’t changed, and that’s the continued gelling together of the offensive line.
“We have a strong offense and we are still confident in our ability to move the ball and put points on the board,” said Winder. “That’s something we’ve traditionally been very good at, and we aren’t going to let one injury change that.”
Jones passed for more than 4,100 yards in two years as the starter including more than 2,300 last year with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
The Yellow Jacket baseball and basketball teams will also miss Jones if Tommy John is indeed the best form of treatment, particularly baseball after he posted a 0.88 earned run average with 87 strikeouts to earn the title 8-4A district pitcher of the year.
Stephenville has lost a pitcher to the same injury and surgery before. Brock Morrison was in the midst of a gem before suffering the injury during the sixth inning of a game two win to lead Stephenville to an area-round sweep of Kennedale in 2014. The Jackets were swept the next week by Liberty Hill, and though Morrison returned to bat and play in the field in 2015, he was no longer a factor as a pitcher.
“Unfortunately, these kinds of things happen,” said Winder. “While we’re all thinking of Easton and wising him a good recovery, we also have to plan for how we are going to move forward. For us, that’s with Tyler Schouten, and he is a hard-working kid who I feel comfortable saying will do a good job for us this season.”