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Cavaliers look for more physical presence against Lions

Football coaches dislike few things more than seeing their teams labeled as “finesse teams.” Right or wrong, the label often follows teams that make their living throwing the ball.

Lake Travis, which has been much more balanced between the run and pass in recent years than most would think, is trying to shed that label this season. In seven games – five wins – this season, Lake Travis has amassed 3,148 yards of offense, 75 percent of which have come via the pass.

The Cavaliers have gained just 772 yards on the ground, and the Cavaliers’ leading rusher is sophomore receiver/quarterback Hudson Card, with 162 yards. Coach Hank Carter’s focus heading into Friday’s game at Leander isn’t on fixing the Cavaliers’ running game, it’s about fixing the Cavaliers’ physicality, which was exposed in a 21-14 loss to Westlake in which Lake Travis rushed for a total of minus four yards.

“We’re going to scratch where it itches, and one of the things we have got to do better is playing more physical on both sides of the ball,” he said. “It’s not the running game. It’s the Lake Travis football team. We’ve just got to play more physical. That’s what we’re working on.”

Carter knows that physical football teams can usually run the ball when they need to – case in point the 2016 Cavaliers, who finished as one of the more physical teams in the state, rushing for nearly 200 yards per game – and he’d like the 2017 team to take a step in that direction.

“We’re going to want to run the ball Friday night,” he said Tuesday.

To that end, the Cavaliers plan to give senior Kyle Wakefield and junior Shaun Brown-Nixon more carries against the Lions. Wakefield has been Lake Travis’ starting tight end but has lined up in the backfield on occasion, logging eight carries for 87 yards and two scores in seven games. Brown-Nixon joined the varsity three weeks ago and has carried the ball 10 times for 57 yards and a score in two games.

Wakefield (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) and Brown-Nixon (6-0, 200) give the Cavaliers a bit more of a physical look than sophomore Nick Villareal or senior Travis Atchley, who have combined for 291 yards and three scores while averaging six yards per carry.

“It’s just about who’s going to give us the best opportunity to play more physical,” Carter said. “Kyle is uniquely gifted catching the ball, and after the catch he’s shown that he’s a very physical runner. I think Shaun gives us a physical punch. He hits the hole hard.”

Villareal, if healthy after taking a hard shot against Lehman, and Atchley will still figure in the mix, Carter said.

“Nick and Travis both catch the ball great out of the backfield,” he said. “Depending on the run scheme, those guys have had success too.”

Wakefield lined up as the starting running back last week against Lehman, but he never got a chance to take a heavy workload. He scored on his only carry – a 35-yard run – and found himself watching from the sidelines as the second quarter began with Lake Travis leading 35-0. Brown-Nixon got a handful of second-quarter carries but didn’t play in the second half.

“We’d like to take a little more time in games to get them involved, but the other night we were scoring so quickly that we didn’t get to do a lot of things that we set out to do,” Carter said.

The playing time they didn’t get in last Friday’s game meant a bit more work against the starting defense during the week as the Cavaliers prepared to face 0-7 Leander. Despite the Lions struggles, Carter said the Cavaliers aren’t taking anything for granted.

“We’ve got our game plan for Friday and we expect our kids to execute it no matter who the opponent is,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for Leander and what they are doing. They’ve had some tough games of late and we’re going to prepare for them just like we do for anyone else.”

While the Cavaliers want to establish more of a physical presence all over the field, especially in the running game, they don’t plan on any drastic makeovers to an offense that’s averaging 46 points and 450 yards of offense per game.

“Some of it has to do with what’s our best combination to beat what the defense shows us,” Carter said. “We’re always going to try to go with whatever gives us the best chance to win.”

That means establishing a physical running attack when the defense drops seven players into coverage to defend Matthew Baldwin, Garrett Wilson, Card and the other weapons in Lake Travis’ ever-consistent passing game.

“It’s our job to go out there and make sure our kids are getting better in practice each week,” Carter said. “Some weeks, a lot of practice is spent installing new concepts or putting in some new plays or learning some of the concepts of the opponents because it’s different than what we’ve seen in the past. Sometimes it’s just working on getting nastier, playing physical and being tougher.”

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Lake Travis' running backs

As Kyle Wakefield and Shaun Brown-Nixon figure to get more carries, here's a look at Lake Travis' running backs in 2017.