In a city where Texas Tech football has been the pulse of the town for some 80-plus years, the West Texas Outlaws have quietly put together one of the longest-running semipro football programs in the state of Texas.
Entering their 13th season, the Outlaws are coming off a successful 2014 campaign which ended with a loss in the Southwest American Football League Championship Game against the Drillers at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland. Coming within reach of the crown last season, which marked their 11th playoff appearance in 12 seasons, this team is now more confident than ever heading in to 2015.
As is the case with football teams at every level, attrition hits during the off-season as some players hang it up to move on with their lives, while coaches, staff and veterans work around the clock to further their mission and welcome new faces to come in and help carry the team forward. One major change to look for with the Outlaws in 2015 is seven-year veteran athlete Maurice Taylor’s transition to offensive coordinator.
“I’m really excited,” Taylor said of his new position. “I thought I had a few years left in me as a player,but I thought I could have more of an impact on players as a coach than as a player. We’ve been having some good turnouts at practice and at workouts this offseason. This is probably the biggest turnout as far as rookies interested in our team.”
A former semipro All-Star at several positions including tight end and linebacker, Taylor has earned the respect of players all around the league and believes that his presence as a coach will help propel the team forward.
“A lot of guys look up to me,” Taylor said. “I’ve seen the Outlaws like right there on the breakthrough where we’ve just needed to make a few changes and I feel like with me playing for six years – I kind of call myself a player’s coach because I have a real good relationship with all of the players.”
The Outlaws, which are traditionally a strong defensive team, got off to a slow start in 2014 as new players on both sides of the ball were forced to mature and step in to larger roles. Several veterans, including Taylor, had to come together like never before to help right the ship and finish the season on a high note.
“I really didn’t see myself as a guy to be the glue of the team, but God placed me in this organization for a purpose and last year I felt that my leadership was needed and we made it to a championship game, which was really good,” Taylor said. “I actually see the Outlaws improving from last year, I know that all things are possible with Christ and I’m a Christ-man myself and I believe that we can get to where we want to get.”
While many semipro teams fail to survive for more than two seasons due to a lack of interest, resources and facilities, the Outlaws are still going strong and have solidified a home field at Lubbock Christian High School for the third consecutive season and the foreseeable future.
“We actually have accepted another contract to be at Lubbock Christian again this year, which is the first question for a lot of guys: ‘Where will we play?’ Taylor said. “We can tell them that we will be at Lena Stephens Field which is right here in Lubbock, we won’t have to travel and it’s a great place to be at.”
A man of faith, Taylor considers this relationship with the Christ-centered private school a blessing and a major open door for the Outlaws football organization.
“It’s great, in order to have success at the semipro level, you’ve got to have consistency and that means having a consistent home playing field,” Taylor said. “This will be our third consecutive season playing at Lena Stephens Field. We’ve been building a good relationship with them and they’re excited about us coming back just like we’re excited about being there.”
With a home field in place and familiar faces calling the shots on both sides of the ball, interest in the Outlaws is at a new high as several veterans have returned this season to welcome a record number of rookies.
“I’ve been talking to guys on and off,” Taylor said. “Pretty much everybody is back on board. On offense, we have Charles Planks returning, he’s been with the Outlaws longer than I can remember. We have Dee Allen, who had a breakout season last year. He’s coming back to play wide receiver for us. We have the majority of our line coming back. I’m the only one missing. We have Damian Roberson coming. Our defensive line, all of those starters are coming back, our enforcer Slade McCarty is coming back. Really all of our core players are coming back so we can build on to what we did last year and keep going up from there”
Taylor will be calling the offense and defensive coordinator Manuel Gonzales returns to lead the charge on defense.
“Manuel is a great coach,” Taylor said. “He’s got those guys to buy into his system and he’s one of the most hard-working coaches I know. That’s pretty much the hardest thing with the Outlaws, we’ve always had defense but we didn’t have that relationship that we had last year. Manuel was the leader of that relationship. He’s a good guy, guys come to him and work hard for him.”
The Outlaws have already started practicing for the season which kicks off in February 2015, but the team is still accepting players.
“They can always contact me by Facebook,” Taylor said. “They can e-mail me at email@example.com or they can always contact our Facebook page which is Wtx Outlaws-Football, they can hit us up on Twitter at WTXOutlaws or go to our website at wtxoutlaws.com.”