Gladiators start 2013 grid-iron campaign strong in scrimmage at Valley Mills

Image: Italy Gladiator Shad Newman(4) rambles over an Eagle defender for positive yards to help Italy steam roll Valley Mills on their home turf 6-0 in Saturday’s scrimmage. Newman was a workhorse for the Gladiators as a back, a receiver and at inside linebacker on defense.

Italy Gladiator Shad Newman(4) rambles over an Eagle defender for positive yards to help Italy steam roll Valley Mills on their home turf 6-0 in Saturday’s scrimmage. Newman was a workhorse for the Gladiators as a back, a receiver and at inside linebacker on defense. (Barry Byers)

Valley Mills — On Saturday, the 1A Italy Gladiator fans had their first real look at their 2013 varsity and JV football teams within a game setting under first-year head coach, Charles Tindol, and were impressed with Italy’s dominance over the hapless Eagles in both matches.

JV Gladiators vs. Valley Mills:
Led by quarterback Joe Celis, Italy’s JV Gladiator squad managed to move the ball on their opening drive which culminated in Celis keeping for a 2-yard plunge to put Italy up 1-0. Defensively, Italy held their own with the heavies up front including a pair of 270 pound twin brothers in Aaron and Austin Pittman and a towering David De La Hoya. Ray Salas and Celis started at the ends.

A stout Samuel Corley made an appearance at defensive tackle combining with De La Hoya for a sack late in the scrimmage. Kenneth Norwood, Jr., brought the hammer from his inside linebacker position and Waxahachie transfer Jorge Rodriquez had a nose for the ball from his safety position. Celis was also a beast on defense helping to keep the JV Eagles from reaching the end zone.

Defensively, John Escamilla played great in the secondary by disrupting pass attempts and also tagged the Eagles’ quarterback on a blitz. Dylan McCasland, Clayton Miller and Ryan Connor gave strong performances in pass coverage while Adrian Acevedo and Hunter Ballard stepped in on defense to help keep Valley Mills scoreless.

The JV Gladiators used multiple backs on offense with Jorge Galvan, Eli Garcia, Escamilla and Rodriquez helping to shoulder the load. Italy’s passing game was surprisingly effective this early in the season with Celis hitting both Miller and Aaron Latimer downfield on chain moving pass completions. Celis also threw a quick pass to Garcia where he made the catch and rumbled forward for positive yards.

The JV Gladiator starting offensive line consisted of Elliot Worsham, De La Hoya, Norwood and the Pittman brothers at both tackles. Corley also saw time on the offensive line and did a solid job as part of the group who were in charge of protecting Celis in the passing game and providing running lanes for their ball carriers.

Assistant coach, Wayne Rowe, complimented his guys for playing hard and commented how proud he was of their effort. Rowe, also reminded the players that they still have much to work on.

Gladiators vs. Eagles:
With newcomer, TaMarcus Sheppard, at the reins at quarterback, Italy’s war chariots up front paved the way for Sheppard and running backs Shad Newman, Coby Bland and Hunter Merimon. The starting offensive linemen for Italy included Darol Mayberry, Cody Medrano, Kyle Fortenberry, Kevin Roldan and Zain Byers who won the majority of battles against a stout Valley Mills defensive front.

With the Eagles on their heels trying to slow down the Gladiator running attack, Sheppard, exploited their secondary when he connected downfield to wide receiver, Trevon Robertson, who added yards after the catch before being dragged down at the Eagle 5-yard line. The 40-yard effort setup a touchdown run by Sheppard who dashed in untouched to give Italy a 1-0 advantage after their opening 10-play series.

Italy eagerly switched to defense with their front four of Bailey Walton (188 lbs.), John Byers (275 lbs.), Kevin Roldan (275 lbs.) and Zain Byers (226 lbs.) were anxious to throw their weight around and set the tone for Italy’s physical style of play this season.

With a kitchen sink approach to their run game, Valley Mills tried to outnumber Italy at the point of attack. Unfortunately for the green machine, however, Italy’s linebackers included Newman, Bland, Merimon and Sheppard who were quick to find the ball and hold the Eagles to minimal gains. Walton and Ray Salas both made a couple of key tackles early as The Gold Crush bent but didn’t break. The Eagles were unable to counter Italy’s opening offensive score.

Returning to offense, the Gladiators would score again when Trevon Robertson turned a short pass into a 45-yard touchdown as he eluded tacklers down the field to put Italy up 2-0. A clipping call charged to Italy would have nullified the effort but penalties were not enforced during the scrimmage, therefore, the score counted.

Valley Mills tried sticking with the run but Italy’s Newman and Bland would have none of it with hard tackling and help from defensive tackles John Byers and Roldan and Walton at defensive end. Cornerback Cody Boyd made punishing tackles on the edge while Robertson, at safety, kept everything in front of him. When the Eagles looked to their passing game for answers, Robertson picked off a long-ball in stride and it appeared that he might return it to the house but the play was blown dead as a precaution.

With Italy back on offense, Italy mounted another lengthy drive with Newman making big plays on offense along with Bland who is a tough runner up the middle requiring multiple Eagle defenders to get him to the ground. Bland’s longest run was 12-yards. Sheppard joined the act and followed lead blocker Newman around the edge and scored again after a block by Robertson kept the sideline open to the end zone and give Italy a 3-0 cushion. Sheppard was thriving behind his experienced offensive line with five holdovers from last season’s playoff run keeping him protected. Sheppard completed passes to Newman, Boyd, Levi McBride, Ryan Connor and Robertson who hauled in his second touchdown pass from Sheppard that covered half the field to put the Gladiators up 4-0.

Back on defense, and with Italy mixing up its line-up a bit, Valley Mills began their best drive of the scrimmage. From their own 35-yard line, the Eagles plotted their way deep into Italy’s territory despite a tackle in the backfield by All-State defensive end Zain Byers who was assisted by Roldan in foiling an Eagle’s sweep attempt. Moments later, the Eagles decided to pass but Italy’s McBride, at cornerback, picked it off and got in behind Robertson who was leading the way to the end zone before the whistle halted the play.

Italy eventually returned to offense which resulted in two more touchdown runs for Sheppard. From short range, the senior transfer from Itasca dove across the goal line with Merimon and Robertson blocking downfield to distance Italy 5-0 from the Eagles. From long range, Sheppard kept the ball and went the distance after receiving help from Boyd who laid the final block on the Valley Mills safety to give Sheppard smooth sailing the final 20-yards and a 6-0 Gladiator lead.

Desperate not to finish the scrimmage scoreless, Valley Mills again opened their play book but John Byers stripped the ball and Zain Byers recovered it, on one play, and Roldan surged into to the backfield to tip a pass attempt be the Eagles on another. Zain Byers then made back-to-back tackles to help end the scrimmage and preserve Italy’s 6-0 shutout victory!

The effort by the Gladiators on Saturday proved they are still a force to reckon with and could very well claim a district championship for the third year in row. Despite almost a complete turnover in their coaching staff after last season’s State semifinalist finish and the loss of 13 talented seniors, the 2013 version of the Gladiator war machine, under Coach Tindol, still has numerous weapons and 11 seniors to lead the way.

Next up for Italy will be an away scrimmage against the 2A Palmer Bulldogs on Thursday, August 22, with the JV starting at 5:00 p.m. and the varsity matchup beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Palmer finished last season 6-5 with a first round playoff loss to the Teague Lions 38-36.

Go Italy!

See more images of the Valley Mills scrimmage