SANTA FE — Long regarded as one of the best assistant football coaches in the state, Mark Kanipes is now in charge of a Santa Fe tea that looks to model the success of the school’s baseball and softball teams, which have long been consistent postseason visitors.
“This is a baseball town, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all,” Kanipes said. “I know that you can have both, and that’s what we’re going to work on.”
After spending the last three-plus decades as an assistant in La Marque and Pearland, Kanipes, who has four state title rings on his résumé, is up to the challenge of rebuilding a Santa Fe team that finished 2-8 last season and has not made the postseason since 2009.
Experience is limited, as the Indians return just 22 lettermen from last season. However, there is talent for Kanipes to start building his foundation; 10 starters (5 offense, 5 defense) will suit up when fall practice begins in August, including all-district offensive lineman Hayden Evans, running back Tim Alcala and versatile Josh McKinney, who reached the regionals in the 100-meter hurdles.
Evans, along with promising junior Jeremiah Vincent, was part of a group that finished third out of 34 teams in a recent Lineman Challenge at Manvel High School. The unit has considerable size and toughness, two major attributes that fit the ball-control style of play the offense plans to run.
Kanipes also has high hopes for incoming sophomore quarterback Bradley Ballard, whose raw talent has impressed the coaching staff.
“We’ve got to continue working him, and he needs experience, but there’s a lot to like about him,” said Kanipes of Ballard. “He’s got a rocket for an arm.”
Ballard will have two established playmakers to work with in Alcala, who just missed crossing the 1,000-yard mark last season, and McKinney, who led the team in receptions and accounted for seven touchdowns. Wideout Dylan Fajkus also returns after pulling in 16 passes.
Depth issues will be the biggest barrier in the early going for Santa Fe, which is now part of a District 23-5A that will be defined by speed across the board. Five of the eight teams in the district made the playoffs in 2013, and Ball Hall should be much improved.
“It’s going to be tough, but our schedule is going to be back-heavy,” said Kanipes. “I think that we can get off to a good start and hope some of that magic rubs off by that time.”
Along with competing in the Lineman Challenge, the Indians have also become more involved in 7-on-7, which will give the players extra reps and a chance to further bond as a unit. While the path to success will take some time, the team is ready to start making inroads.
“The kids have responded very well,” said Kanipes. “We are working them hard, but they like it.”