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The bulk of the 2021 Trinity Valley Cardinal team is gone heading into the new season, but coach Sherard Poteete has some pieces left for rebuilding.

Cardinal football turns 75 this season. It may feel more like starting over.

Roster raids by D-1 schools in May have resulted in a far different personnel look than fifth-year head coach Sherard Poteete had anticipated. Gone, in a one-month period, are 17 players, including eight offensive and two defensive starters.

When the dust settled, the Cardinals were left with no returning offensive starters, four on defense and just 15 lettermen.

But you will not find Poteete, his staff and the Cardinals feeling sorry for themselves. They are also aware the rest of the Southwest Junior College Football Conference will not.

“Yes, we were hit hard,” Poteete said. “But everyone took hits, and we will still be expected to get off the bus ready to line up and compete on Saturdays this fall.

“The timing of losing the players we did was unfortunate, but we are here to move our players on to the next level. Due to the portal, junior college is becoming a one-year program.”

Though it may seem like it, the cupboard is not completely bare for the Cardinals. They return four starters on the defensive side of the ball – all up front in the trenches – and highly-regarded kicker/punter Jake Gaster.

Expected to anchor the defensive unit while the newcomers grow up are ends Darren Roberson (6-3, 230), Elliot Spiller (6-0, 235) and tackles Deundre Blanton (6-4, 270) and Alvino Carbajal III (6-0, 300).

Roberson was a major contributor as a freshman in the Cardinals’ 5-4 campaign last year. He was in on 65 tackles, eight of which were for losses, and four sacks. Spiller had 49 tackles and Carbajal 44 and Blanton 38.

Although the secondary is void of starters, Poteete has three returners he knows he can count on. Rashad Onezime (5-11, 170), Zayteak McGhee (5-10, 185) and Dabari Hawkins (6-4,190) all took meaningful snaps in 2021.

For the first time since 2006, the Cardinal defense will be under the tutelage of a new coordinator. Mark McMillan, beginning his third tenure at the college, will now lead the way. He returns after a two-year stint as defensive line coach at Hardin-Simmons University.

“I am so excited to have Mark back with us,” Poteete said. “He is an excellent fit for our coaching staff -- a young, energetic coach who is wise beyond his years.”

While the defense will feature newcomers on the back end, the Cardinals are set at kicker-punter. Gaster proved a weapon as a freshman and Poteete is expecting more of the same this season.

“Jake can do it all, as we saw last year,” Poteete said. “He’s gotten stronger, and we expect more great things from him.”

Gaster hit 11-of-14 field goals last season, including a 54-yarder as time expired to beat Cisco 34-31 and keep the Cardinals unbeaten at 5-0. He was 39-of-40 on PATs and averaged 39.8 yards per punt.

Questions abound offensively without a single starter back. But at least at quarterback, the Cardinals have two returners having taken snaps in games last year and four transfers to choose from.

Both Tucker Yarbrough (6-1, 215) and Riggs McDonald (6-0, 205) are in their third falls with the Cardinals, which Poteete says is an asset. Yarbrough completed 30-of-43 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns last season.

Also in the mix to lead the offense are transfers Darion Peace (6-2-235), Brock Nellor (6-2, 220), Matthew Duncan (6-1, 215) and Gavid Kuld (6-6, 225).

“We feel good about our six kids at the position,” Poteete said. “We are just waiting for the cream to rise to the top.”

Though coaches come and go, and rosters flip from year to year, Poteete said one thing that never changes is how competitive the SWJCFC remains.

“You know what you are going to get each week – a battle,” Poteete said. “There are no Saturdays off in this league … none.

“Just look at last year. NMMI was picked fourth in the preseason poll. They went on to win the league and the national championship.

“It just goes to show you that preseason polls are a joke.”

Poteete says the Cardinals are ready for the challenges ahead.

“We will line up and be prepared to go,” Poteete said. “Our expectations will always be high.”

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