Written by Corbett Smith
Smith: No shortage of questions for area football ahead of the 2012 season
Editor's note: This column originally ran on May 1, 2012.
Want to pat yourself on the back for all the good work you’ve done?
That’s a good way to get beat.
Even though he now sports a shiny championship ring, Southlake Carroll coach Hal Wasson knows it.
“Last year was a great accomplishment,” Wasson said. “But that’s old news now. It’s time for us to move on and get ready for the next phase – which is spring practice.”
Most Class 5A and 4A football teams around the area start spring practice this week, with coaches keen on addressing concerns heading into the 2012 season.
Here’s a few questions coming into the spring:
Will a new-look Allen open its new stadium?
There’s no mystery about Allen’s $60 million stadium. It will be one of the nicest high school facilities in the nation, and will open with a flourish – hosting defending champs Southlake Carroll on high school football’s opening weekend.
The question, however, is what product Allen will put on the field. Tom Westerberg and his staff have been rumored to be making wholesale changes offensively, after losing quarterback Alec Morris (Alabama), running back Jonathan Williams (Arkansas) and wide receiver Andrew Rodriguez (Louisiana Tech).
“We’ll see,” Westerberg said, cryptically.
Oliver Pierce will move back to quarterback after playing as a wide receiver for the last two seasons. The speedy 5-9 Pierce is a much different player than the 6-4, 235-pound Morris – so expect a more run-oriented approach behind a solid offensive line, including FBS recruit Brad North.
Allen’s defense will be a strength, returning all-district defensive tackle Stone Drulman, linebacker Nick Cobb and safety Chad Adams – the team’s leading tackler.
Is this the year for Colleyville Heritage to get past Euless Trinity?
Euless Trinity has the benchmark for teams to measure themselves against over the past decade. And last season, Colleyville Heritage almost measured up – taking Trinity to overtime before losing on a missed field goal, 38-35.
“We always feel like we can compete with anyone we play. ...” Heritage coach Mike Fuller said. “But there’s no doubt, there are some good football teams in this area.”
With standout quarterback Cody Thomas returning for his senior season, optimism is high for another strong season and a deeper playoff run.
Thomas – the most heavily recruited quarterback in the area, with offers from Florida, LSU, Oregon and TCU – threw for 3,296 yards and 36 touchdowns last season.
He will likely miss most of spring practice for baseball, but could return for the spring game – as he did last season.
Fuller said that Thomas might be allowed to run a little more this season, opening up the offense a little more. Despite being the anchor leg on Heritage’s 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 regional-qualifying track relays, Thomas only rushed for 55 yards last season.
Connor Davis, Daniel Farrington and Arizona transfer Kaelin Deboskie should provide Thomas with ample targets in Heritage’s spread attack.
Did DeSoto miss a beat with Mathis’ departure and arrival?
One of the most fascinating storylines over the offseason was the plight of DeSoto coach Claude Mathis. Mathis left for the running backs coaching position the University of Houston, but did an about-face before the DeSoto job could be filled. The board of trustees and athletic director Pam DeBorde welcomed Mathis back into the fold.
Mathis said that with offensive coordinator Todd Peterman and defensive coordinator Kendrick Brown in place, his program didn’t miss a beat.
“It probably made us stronger,” Mathis said. “I know that sounds crazy, but the kids really bought in to what we’ve been saying all along: we’ll do it with you or without you. ... They continued to work hard, and really nothing’s changed.”
While finding defensive starters will be important – only two starters return – DeSoto is once again loaded on offense, with eight returners.
Dontre Wilson is one of the area’s most dynamic playmakers, and Desmon White and Duncanville transfer Travis Collins will compete for the starting quarterback role.
Will Highland Park once again reload?
Nearly every season, Highland Park recharges in the spring with a overturned starting line-up, made up of seniors who’ve paid their dues either on the junior varsity or as back-ups. Coach Randy Allen has made that process work – turning unpredictability into wins season after season. His 306 wins speak of his ability.
In a rare turn, the Scots had 10 returning starters for the 2011 season, including seven on offense. But key injuries -- losing star receiver Dalton Stogner for most of the season with a knee injury and starting quarterback Brady Burgin to a broken collarbone in a playoff loss to Tyler John Tyler – hampered HP’s playoff run.
And – in a weird twist of fate – Allen was himself injured, involved in a car accident in Waco after the Tyler loss. He broke two vertebrae and his right ankle after his car was pushed into the back of a bus.
But Allen said he’s healed and feeling good, ready to tackle the challenge in his 32nd season as a head coach.While the defense is loaded with experience, including three-year starter Guy Tom Kellogg, Allen’s high-powered offense will have to find its sea legs.
Running backs Rob Williams and Hank Howard will need to step up to fill the role vacated by Preston Miller – who tallied nearly 4,000 yards total offense in three years as a starter.
Senior quarterback Jet Tuma (6-2, 190) had a nice season last year as the junior varsity starter, and will step into spotlight as the Scots’ projected starter.
“We are comfortable with him,” Allen said.
Can Mansfield Timberview build on last year’s success?
Mansfield Timberview had a remarkable run through last year’s Class 5A Division II playoffs, making the semifinals before losing to eventual champs Spring Dekaney.
But there’s significant uncertainty surrounding the 2012 season.
Timberview graduated star quarterback Chuck Taylor, who rushed for 1,934 yards and 23 touchdowns and passed for 1,845 yards and 14 scores.
It lost its head coach; Mark Walker was promoted in February, moving up to an administrative position in the Mansfield ISD athletic department. North Forney’s James Brown is the team’s new coach.And, perhaps most significantly, it will be playing the next two seasons in a difficult 5A district – with DeSoto, Cedar Hill, Duncanville and Mansfield – with 4A numbers. The opening of Mansfield Lake Ridge, which will compete in varsity sports in Class 4A next season, cut into Timberview’s enrollment, but the district didn’t get revised attendance figures to the UIL on the league’s cutoff date.
Nonetheless, Brown said he’s excited about the opportunity.
“Normally, when a coach takes a new job, there’s problems that existed, things that needed to be fixed,” Brown said. “But that’s just not the case here. The foundation was already set, and the kids believe in what they were doing and where the program is going. It’s our job as coaches to adapt to that, and keep it going.”Running back Josh Smith (1,752 rushing yards, 15 TDs) will be essential to Brown’s option schemes, but finding a “trigger man” at quarterback will be one of the keys for this spring. Seniors-to-be Avery Gilbert and Jarrett Minnitt will be competing for the job.
Will McKinney Boyd compete with the state’s largest schools?
In next year’s UIL alignment, McKinney Boyd moves out of the relative comfort of a Garland ISD district, where Boyd went 12-2 over two seasons, and back with Allen and the Plano schools. That’s a stiff challenge for any team; Plano East, Allen, Plano and Plano West are the largest four high schools in the state, with East’s enrollment of 6,015 dwarfing Boyd’s 2900 students.
But McKinney Boyd coach Don Drake isn’t lamenting his new district-mates. Instead, he’s relishing a chance to measure where his team stands. Boyd’s first foray into 5A football was in 2008, when it was placed in a district with the four schools. Over the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Boyd won only one district game.
“We are excited about it,” Drake said. “It will be a great opportunity see how much we’ve matured as a program.”
Boyd’s success will likely rely on senior running back Bryan Driskell. Driskell provided more than half of Boyd’s yardage last year – rushing 317 times for 2,072 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Is Mesquite the darkhorse team for 2012?
Not much was expected for Mesquite coming into last year’s playoffs, after a 4-6 season and a losing record in district.
But the Skeeters promptly beat Belton and Garland en route to the regional semifinals, a great accomplishment for coach Robbie Robinson and his players made even greater when considering Mesquite was 1-9 in 2010.
“A lot of those guys were thrown to the wolves as sophomores,” Robinson said. “They took their beatings – but we knew they needed to get on the field.”
Eighteen starters will be back next season, nine on offense and defense, buoying hopes that Mesquite can return to its former glory.
Returning offensive players include quarterback Alex Cooper, running back Junior Session, wide receiver Rashard Higgins and a solid offensive line – including all-state guard Daniel Mafileo. The defense features three-year starter Anthony Canady at defensive back, and junior-to-be safety Charles Grant.
Can Skyline take the next step for a state title?
Skyline was an onside-kick recovery away from potentially its first state title, losing to Southlake Carroll in dramatic fashion in the 5A Division I semifinals.
Coach Reginald Samples said early in the offseason that his players have been focused and determined after the loss, working hard in the offseason to take the final step.
If that continues, watch out. Skyline has one of the most talented rosters in the area, if not the country. As many as eight players could sign with FBS schools this season
Dual-threat quarterback Devante Kincade was second-team all-state as a junior, passing for 3,270 yard and 37 touchdowns while rushing for 17 more scores.
Ra’Shaad Samples – unable to compete in the spring because of a broken fibula suffered in a March recruiting showcase – had 1,369 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns in 2011.
Two players on the defense have already committed to big-time Texas colleges: defensive back Will Barrow (Texas Tech) and tackle Kerrick Huggins (Texas A&M).
Can Southlake Carroll match last year’s miracle run?
After winning the 5A Division I Region I title – en route to the state crown -- Southlake Carroll coach Hal Wasson bristled at a question about how he felt now that the “monkey was off his back, now ya'll are winning.”
“I was like, ‘We’ve been winning!’” Wasson said. “What the heck are you talking about?”
But that’s the level of expectation for the Dragons.
With his first championship as a head coach under his belt, Wasson gets to meet those expectations again – trying to win back-to-back titles at Carroll for the first time since former coach Todd Dodge departed for the college ranks. It doesn’t hurt that Wasson will attempt the feat with one of the biggest playmakers in the area: quarterback Kenny Hill. Hill threw for 3,006 yards and rushed for nearly 1,400 yards, and was instrumental in the now-legendary rally in the 5A-Division I semifinal against Skyline, where he scored twice in final 80 seconds for the win.
It’s likely, though, that Hill won’t be competing in the spring, sticking with the baseball team full time on their playoff run.
While the backfield and offensive line as a strength, Carroll graduated its top five receivers, including Colorado signee Peyton Williams and two-way star Sabian Holmes.