The Vandegrift Vipers have already served notice to the rest of Class 6A that their program is an up-and-coming powerhouse in Central Texas.
While most teams hang their hats on an explosive air-raid attack or a dominant running game, Vandegrift is taking the opposite approach. Head coach Drew Sanders’ Vipers have become known for their suffocating defense, which has led to three district championships in the past four seasons.
Defeating Cedar Park this season 42-7 in week 1, Killeen Ellison 31-14 in Week 2 and San Angelo Central 45-13 in week 3 the vipers kicked off district play with a defeat of Stony Point 56-21 off to a 4-0 start.
During the pandemic-riddled 2020 campaign, Vandegrift finished second in District 25-6A behind a resurgent Round Rock team that stunned the state by taking out Lake Travis in the first round of the 6A Division I postseason. This year, Sanders and his retooled defense will look to regain their form following a fourth-round playoff exit against Hays in early January.
The Vipers graduated each of their top five tacklers from last season, but there’s no shortage of depth for Vandegrift. Along the front line, senior defensive end Tucker Harrison returns after a stellar year in 2020 that saw him register 79 tackles, five sacks and four forced fumbles en route to earning all-state honorable mention. Harrison will likely be joined at the point of attack by junior Oliver Yndo, senior Sterling Emerson, senior Lucas Cummings and senior Cristion Davis.
The linebacking corps will search for replacements for the trio of Austin Skoglund, Logan Arnold and Michael Mastrodicasa, who combined to make 342 total stops in 2020 while finishing as the team’s top three tacklers.
However, there’s plenty of experience back in the secondary, which is led by senior Jaxon Oliver, senior Griffin Shaffer, senior Clayton Moore and versatile senior Reece Beauchamp, who might see more time on offense in 2021. Oliver tied for the team lead in interceptions last year with three.
Beauchamp could end up taking the reins for 2021 graduate Ryan Back at quarterback — or perhaps it will be junior Brayden Buchanan. Whichever player settles into the signal caller role will allow the other to become an instant play-maker in a different spot, whether it be at wide receiver or in another position.
The starting running back job appears locked up, as senior Ryan Sheppard returns after leading the team with 922 yards and six touchdowns as a junior. Sheppard is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield, as he made 13 catches a year ago.
Along the O-line, the Vipers will reload with one of the top groups in District 25-6A despite seeing only one starter — Ethan Barnard — return. Barnard is set to move from guard to center as a senior, and help is expected to be provided up front by senior Juan Gutierrez, senior Luke Collins and junior Ian Reed, who is a budding collegiate prospect at tackle.
When league play rolls around, the Vipers will look to battle past Round Rock and reclaim their familiar perch as district champs. Challenges from Hutto, Stony Point and Cedar Ridge are also expected, but Sanders’ team looks to have the inside track in the race for 25-6A’s top spot.
Vandegrift’s first 11 seasons of varsity competition have yielded an overall record of 94-40, and the Vipers’ 4-6 campaign back in 2010 — the program’s inaugural year — remains the lone losing season in school history.
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