“The main goal for me and my teammates is just to go win.”
UMHB quarterback Tommy Bowden’s main goal for the upcoming season took a step forward on Saturday, as the Cru do appear to be destined for victory, many victories, in the abbreviated spring campaign, that will include five games.
Playing a scrimmage in front of a socially-distanced crowd at Crusader Stadium on Saturday, the talent level and depth of this year’s squad was evident. With no clock and no scoreboard, the players focused more on situational plays, picking up first downs, and trying to build team chemistry on both sides of the ball. Plays were run from the opposing 40 and 20 yard lines, working a lot on passing and scoring from inside the red zone.
Behind Bowden and starting running back Montana Miller, the first team offense was unstoppable. The offense worked as a well-oiled machine, picking up consecutive first downs, and finding weaknesses in the defense. Bowden played pitch and catch with a few different receivers, including Brandon Jordan, the 6’5 junior who made a spectacular catch in the end zone, going up and over the defender, and bobbling the ball as he pulled it in for the touchdown. Texas A&M transfer Caleb Eagans used his speed in a variety of ways, especially on a jet sweep play that was run multiple times. Kickoffs and punts were not done, but it is expected that he will also be one of the team’s primary returners.
In the running game, Miller used his 5’9, 225-pound frame to run through contact and push hard into the end zone. Head coach Pete Fredenburg said post-scrimmage that Miller reminds him of another back by the name of Miller who led the UMHB backfield not too long ago.
“He’s grown up,” said Fredenburg when talking about Miller’s performance on Saturday. “I think he looks like Markeith.”
That is Markeith Miller, the leading rusher in UMHB history, with 4,503 yards. Montana Miller did look a lot like Markeith Miller in his style of play, and the fact that he was able to continue going forwards, even after he’d been hit one, two or even three times. Simply put, it is hard to bring Miller down.
Another offensive weapon for the Cru that will be hard for opposing defenses to bring down is Bowden. Not only did he prove he could find the open receiver downfield on Saturday, but also demonstrated his physicality as a brusing runner, whether it be on a designed quarterback run, or scrambling away from the defense. On multiple plays, Bowden was hit at the line of scrimmage, but pushed forward to pick up yardage. He said that his dual-threat nature is something that has been part of his game for years.
“[Running] has always been a big part of my game,” said Bowden. “Now it is about working on my throwing, being a big threat with my arm.”
“There’s nothing more frustrating than coaching defense and going against a guy that can escape the pocket and make positive yards with his feet.”
On the defensive side of the ball, always-reliable safety Jefferson Fritz made play after play, hitting hard, and deflecting a fair share of passes. He managed to get to the quarterback on more than a few plays, and held his own in coverage, a sure sign that Fritz will be a challenge for any offense that comes up against him this spring.
In the kicking game, starting kicker Anthony Avila did not suit up, so sophomore Brandon Cunningham handled the kicking duties. He was 100% on PATs and also nailed a field goal from about 30 yards out. He transferred from Angelo State before last season and will likely retain his role as UMHB’s starting punter this spring.
Other notable performers included quarterback/punter Kyle King, who saw time behind center, and made several solid throws in the red zone. King begins his second season at UMHB after transferring in from Howard Payne, one of UMHB’s ASC foes.
Overall, Fredenburg feels that in this unique season, his program has been able to turn a negative into a positive, and work on using this season to develop the underclassmen as they look ahead towards a national championship in the fall of 2021.
“Obviously we’d love to be playing games just like everybody else in the country,” said Fredenburg,”but the thing that’s most rewarding is that we turned a bad deal into, I think, a really good deal. We had incredible work with the younger players. We moved three freshmen yesterday into the varsity dressing room. They’re going to be freshmen in ’21. So by the time they hit ’23, ’24, they’re going to be fifth year seniors. This is an incredible experience for them to play in this kind of competition. It’s going to be a tremendous learning experience for us.”