SHINER -- After his Houston Oilers had lost the AFC Championship game to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second year in a row in 1980, Bum Phillips vowed: "One year ago, we knocked on the door. This year, we beat on the door. Next year, we’re going to kick the son-of-a-(beep) in."
As things turned out, it didn’t happen.
Shiner Comanches head football coach Steven Cerny is the conservative sort, so you won’t hear the same kind of speech from him -- although his team has, like Luv Ya Blue Oilers, gotten close in each of the last two seasons.
Instead, he’ll allow that the 2012 Comanches have the potential to kick some doors in.
"We’ve been pushing on the kids that it’s our chance this year," said Cerny, whose team reached the quarterfinals last year before seeing everything fall apart in a loss to eventual state champion Mason. "We feel like we have the opportunity to play a few rounds in the playoffs."
The Comanches start the season as the top-ranked Class 1A team in the San Antonio region, and were ranked No.5 in the state by the pre-season coaches’ poll.
Playing a few rounds in the playoffs has become a habit for Shiner, which has advanced at least three rounds in each of the last two seasons despite a .500 record during the regular season. That record has been deceiving, however: most of their non-district games have been against much larger schools, giving Shiner a ton of quality competition.
"If you come out of it healthy, it helps," Cerny said of the brutal non-district slate his team has played. "Two years ago it hurt our confidence (when the Comanches finished non-district 0-6). We were playing people way above our heads."
This year, after opening with four Class 2A teams -- Vanderbilt Industrial, Hallettsville, Schulenburg and Randolph -- the Comanches return to picking on people their own size when they wrap up pre-district play against 1A Thrall and Weimar.
"Those are two solid teams," Cerny said. "That should give us a real good idea of how good we are. Those will be real physical games."
The Comanches open the season blessed with a lot of experience, talent and speed at the skill positions, but more depth in the offensive and defensive lines. Cerny said it’ll be a juggling act from the start.
Jacob Stafford, who made a big splash as a sophomore last year at quarterback, may actually rotate at the position with the speedy Trevian Flowers and senior Brady Cejka to add some punch to the backfield.
"I feel pretty confident with any of those three at starting quarterback," he said. "We’d like to see what Stafford can do at running back, and Trevian can go out wide because of his speed."
The Comanches also have experience with between-the-tackles veteran fullbacks Caleb Curtis and Marcus Coleman.
Tight ends Caleb Kalich and Brian Kloesel also return with experience, but Cerny said depth at that position may force the Comanches into more one-tight-end sets than they’ve run in the past.
Along with Flowers and Coleman, the wideout spot may be manned by a freshman, Justin Stovall, who Cerny said has shown a "lot of talent" during summer workouts.
The problem among the offensive skill positions, Cerny said, is depth. "We want to try and get people going one-way rather than both sides of the ball, so we can’t afford injuries there," he said. "We lost some good ones from our senior class and we lost a couple just the other day, so I’m concerned about depth."
The offensive line has some size and better depth, he said.
Cole Strauss returns to start at center, while Joey Overton and Jaace Chumchal will rotate at left guard. Tanner Pietsch and Craig Kneifel are battling for the left tackle starting job, while Kris Patek and Max Huth contend for the starting spot at right guard. Veteran Michael Lawrence and Jonathan Albright head the list at right tackle.
The Comanches’ offset 4-3 starts with Zach Arnold and Austin Remers at noseguard. Chumchal and Lawrence will rotate in at defensive tackle, while Kniefel and Pietsch are battling for the starter’s job on the right end. The Comanches lost veteran left end Jeremiah McAfee during the summer, and Curtis and kalich appear to be the leading candidates to fill the vacancy.
Stafford is a returning All-District pick at middle linebacker, but Cerny admits his squad is thin among ‘backers. Kloesel, Huth and Overton figure on filling out the strong and weakside spots.
In the backfield, Cejka has the strong safety spot locked, while freshman Chad Neubauer has emerged as the top candidate at the weakside spot. Veteran Evel Jones is a lock at left cornerback, while Isador Cerny -- no relation -- looks like the leading candidate at RCB.
For all his concern with depth at the skill positions, coach Cerny said it’s the guys in the trenches who will determine the Comanches’ fate.
"I still think our season will depend on our offensive and defensive lines," he said. "We put the ball on the ground against Mason (in last year’s quarterfinals), but we lost the battle on the line before we lost the ball. We’ve got a little more size and a little more depth than last year, so I’m feeling better about them."