Written by SportsDayDFW.com
High school football roundup: It's a hot start for Allen, Highland Park, others
The high temperature for the Dallas area Monday was right at 100 degrees. That’s pretty hot, especially for football players starting fall practice.
But it could be worse. Last year, the high temperature on the first day of practice was 104. In 2011, it was 105.
Those temperatures are from the first Monday when all 4A and 5A teams could practice. (3A and smaller, as well as 4A and 5A schools that didn’t have spring practice, can start a week earlier).
Most schools elect to begin their first practice of the season in the morning to avoid the heat. But defending Class 5A Division I state champion Allen started at 4 p.m.
“Here in two weeks when school starts, this is what time we always practice,” coach Tom Westerberg said. “Our athletic period is our last period of the day, and so when school starts, this is what time we practice.”
Westerberg said he didn’t want to start in the morning for two weeks and then change it when school started.
Highland Park installed a new surface during the off-season to help beat the heat. Highlander Stadium was outfitted with CoolPlay, a FieldTurf innovation that coach Randy Allen said keeps the field cooler.
“This FieldTurf is about 30 degrees cooler than the turf we had last year,” Allen said.
Highland Park worked out from about 9:30 a.m. until noon Monday, and most of that time was spent outdoors. Temperatures were in the mid-90s then.
Allen said the team will start working inside the indoor facility more when practices move to 2:30 p.m. later this fall.
Here are the high temperatures for the first day of fall practice since 2003:
2004: 92 (this was the year that not a single day in August reached 100 ... beautiful!)
Matt Wixon, Akshay Mirchandani, David Just
Elsewhere around the area:
After winning the 5A Division I state championship last season, the Allen Eagles will have a target on their backs coming into this season.
“We know that people are going to come after us with their best shot,” senior wide receiver Cole Carter said.
Coach Tom Westerberg is trying to emphasize that this team shouldn’t be worried about defending anything.
“The whole thing is that we’re not defending anything,” Westerberg said. "that’d that whole team were back last year, then we’d be defending something. This is a whole different team, a whole new group, a whole new season. So what we’re trying to do is make a mark with this group.”
Graduations leave holes to fill on offensive line
Going into Allen's first day of practice there were a lot of key cogs from last season's championship team that were not there. Allen graduated wide receiver Oliver Pierce, running backs Marcus Ward and Jeff Harris and offensive lineman Brad North to name a few. Head coach Tom Westerberg will be relying on back ups from last year and depth of the program to fill those voids.
"There's a bunch of guys in here that have playing experience, but maybe not at that position or maybe not as the starter," Westerberg said. "But a lot of them have experience so that's what we're driving on."
As one of the returning offensive starters, senior wide receiver Cole Carter believed that new players will step up for Allen.
"With our new guys in the Allen program we just expect them to step up, and they know they have to fill in some big shoes," Carter said.
Micah Willis is an asthmatic and has to do breathing treatments. He’s also completely deaf in one ear and very hard of hearing in the other.
But Willis has been playing football since he was in seventh grade. As the sophomore running back went through Arlington Martin’s practice Monday, he kept his eyes on interpreter Gary Claunch, who relayed the coaches’ instructions to Willis using sign language.
“He’s got a can-do attitude,” Claunch said. “He doesn’t let deaf stop him, which is why he does good out here.”
Games can be tough, and not just because Willis has to go without his hearing aid.
“There’s like 140 plays,” Claunch said. “We have to invent signs for those.”
The two are in their third year working together. Willis, who is expected to be on one of Martin’s sub-varsity teams, has helped his interpreter on the field, too.
“Sometimes I have to protect him from getting tackled,” Willis said through Claunch.
Deaf education teacher Jennifer Cobble said Martin has had deaf athletes participate in football, tennis and boys and girls basketball since she arrived in the 1999-2000 school year. Cobble said there will be incoming freshmen who are deaf trying out for soccer and basketball this season.
Myles Garrett weighs college choices
Arlington Martin senior defensive end Myles Garrett is ranked by Rivals.com as the state’s fourth-best overall recruit and the nation’s second-best prospect at his position in the Class of 2014. Rivals.com reports that he has offers from a plethora of national powers, including Alabama and Notre Dame, the teams that played in last season’s BCS championship game.
The 6-4, 229-pound Garrett said there isn’t a front-runner in his recruitment, and he wants to visit Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State. He’s in no hurry to make a commitment.
“I hope to get it done midseason, maybe before that,” he said at Monday’s practice.
Garrett is the latest defensive line standout at Martin. Devonte Fields, now at TCU, was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press as a freshman last season. And Chris Odom signed with Arkansas State last February.
Kyle Hicks' departure retools offense
A year ago, Arlington Martin's offense was led by Kyle Hicks, a TCU signee who was one of the state's top recruits. To get the ball in Hicks' hands as much as possible, Martin coach Bob Wager used his versatile star at both quarterback and running back, and Hicks accounted for 28 touchdowns.
Expect a more traditional offensive approach from Martin this season, with Nick Smith playing running back and someone else at quarterback. Smith was Martin's second-leading rusher last season, running for 451 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 7.9 yards per carry.
"Every year is a little bit different depending on the personnel that you have," Wager said. "We'll be a drastically different football team offensively than we were."
Wager said Sam Brinegar, Eric Walker, Tyler Wilson and Josh Watson are competing for playing time at quarterback. Brinegar got limited playing time on the varsity last season, Wilson has been playing wide receiver, and Watson has been a linebacker.
As Cedar Hill players ran sprints toward the end of practice, coach Joey McGuire and some of his assistants were amid the sea of Longhorns running back and forth across the field.
“Running with them is just something to motivate them and keep them going, because it’s tough at the end of practice,” McGuire said.
The coaches do that regularly, and the players notice.
“It’s a family,” senior running back Larry Hill said. “If we’re going to work out, everybody is going to work out, coaches as well.”
Starting the first week of the regular season, McGuire and several assistants gather after practice and run a series of 100s. They run 16 the first week, then decrease it by one each week that the team is playing. If Cedar Hill reaches the state championship game, as it did last season, the coaches have to run only one 100 the final week.
Loss of touted senior class does not deter coach Joey McGuire
Cedar Hill lost a lot of offensive talent from last year's state runner-up team, with quarterback Damion Hobbs signing with Oregon, running back/wide receiver Laquvionte Gonzalez signing with Texas A&M and receivers Quincy Adeboyejo (Mississippi), Brandon Harris (Iowa State) and Travis Wilson (Nevada) also signing with FBS schools.
But coach Joey McGuire is excited about the players who will be replacing those stars.
Cedar Hill's preseason questionnaire says junior wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge is "maybe the best we have had." According to Rivals.com, Lodge already has offers from several FBS programs, including Ohio State, UCLA, Auburn, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M.
Running back Larry Hill has recovered from a season-ending knee injury suffered in last year's regional final. He'll look to improve on a junior season in which he ran for 1,060 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
Quarterback Justin McMillan hasn't thrown a varsity pass yet, but McGuire said "He's got a cannon" of an arm. And No. 2 quarterback Jaidron Hurd was willing to play receiver to help the team. Hurd already has an FBS offer at receiver.
"The list goes on and on of guys that people will know about in a hurry," McGuire said.
Others who could have breakout seasons include running backs PJ Lewis and Aca'cedric Ware, running back/receiver Denvre Daniels and receiver Darius Williams.
Xavier Washington poised for big 2013 season
Cedar Hill's Xavier Washington had 15 sacks and more than 30 tackles for a loss last season. And the best may still be to come for the 6-2, 240-pound senior defensive end.
"I think he's going to have a huge year," coach Joey McGuire said. "He didn't start all 16 games. He started the last 11 and played a bunch early."
According to Rivals.com, Washington has offers from Air Force, Nevada, North Dakota and Yale.
For the Guyer Wildcats, the 2012 football season marked a banner year in the program’s relatively young history when they used a second-half comeback to win the Class 4A Division I state championship over Georgetown.
Ever since that day, the players have worked slowly to move on from the joyful memory and get ready to play with a huge target on their backs.
On Monday, when Guyer officially began fall workouts, that process of moving on was complete.
“That’s one of the things I’ve been thinking about,” said senior defensive end Thomas Ferguson, who led the area last season with 10 sacks. “We need to get our minds right. What’s in the past is in the past. That’s 2012, this is 2013.”
The Wildcats will undoubtedly enter the 2013 season as favorites to repeat as state champions with star Texas pledge Jerrod Heard under center and a nucleus of returning starters coming back. Head coach John Walsh said his players know the task at hand when they step on the field for their first game on Aug. 29 against Class 5A Division II state finalist Cedar Hill.
“We talked in the off-season about winning it again, but it’s not based on what we did last year and our kids understand that,” he said. “We took that approach from the beginning. Success of 2012 has nothing to do with what’s going to happen in 2013, and they understand that.”
After a day of practice in helmets only (the first day Guyer can practice in pads is Friday), Walsh said he was already seeing some positive signs, one of which has been something the eighth-year head coach has raved about all off-season.
After giving up 25 points per game last season, including three times of surrendering at least 50 points, Walsh is confident he has an experienced defense that can be called upon to win a game, if needed.
As much as people have been fixated on DeSoto's high-powered offense over the past few years (for good reason), the play of DeSoto's defense has also been impressive. This season, the defense might finally grab the spotlight.
DeSoto has all five of its defensive front returning, including senior North Texas pledges Shaquel Jackson (6-1, 260) and Johnavhan Grahm (6-2, 265) and junior Texas commit Bryce English (5-11, 310). Depth at the interior linebacker positions also return, including second-team all-district performer Derion Woods. And, as always, there's plenty of quality in the secondary, with TCU pledge Nick Orr and Louisiana Tech commit Howard Wilson.
Add another play maker to the mix. Lancaster outside linebacker/strong safety Derrick Leonard has transferred to DeSoto. Leonard was an first-team all-district outside linebacker for Lancaster in 2013, helping the Tigers to the Class 4A Division II championship game.
[As a sidenote, he was the deep snapper on the controversial mis-call in the final, having the ball swiped from his hands by a Cedar Park defender].
DeSoto defensive coordinator Kendrick Brown said he expects Leonard to slide into one of DeSoto's outside linebacker spots.
Tough schedule will challenge relatively fresh line
Asked whether DeSoto could match the success it has had over his tenure, coach Claude Mathis said there was one big question mark – and it wasn’t how to replace do-everything running back Dontre Wilson (who has developed a remarkably large fan club in the short time he’s been on the Ohio State campus).
Mathis is concerned about his offensive line. No starters return from last year’s 14-1 Class 5A Division I semifinalists, with only two players with any real varsity experience – senior center Geoff Davis and junior guard Kendall Jennings.
“It hasn’t been like this since my first year here,” Mathis said.
As of late, DeSoto has produced a slew of FBS signees on a yearly basis. Just look at their last four signing classes:
2013: Sergio Phillips (6-2, 280, San Diego State), Aubry Beal (6-1, 285, Air Force)
2012: Curtis Riser (6-3, 283, Texas)
2011: Marcus Hutchins (6-4, 254, Texas)
2010: Evan Washington (6-5, 290, LSU)
This year’s line won’t be nearly as big, with DeSoto’s heaviest probable starter at 290 pounds. The flip side, Mathis said, is that the group will be very mobile – great for DeSoto’s breakneck tempo offense.
The unit won’t have much time for seasoning. DeSoto’s first three games are against talent-laden teams: Arlington Martin and their elite defensive end Myles Garrett, Oklahoma power Tulsa Union, and Euless Trinity.
“Our first three ball games are really going to test our offensive line,” Mathis said. “If we can stand up to the test in those games with the competition we’ll face, we’ll be OK.”
After drills were over and wind sprints run, Euless Trinity gathered in their new indoor facility for one last bit of practice, installing the first two moves for their new pregame chant.
Senior defensive lineman Eddie Ngungutau prowled in front of his teammates, showing them the correct stance, and the first lunging movement.
But let’s get something straight; what Trinity has been performing for the last four or five seasons hasn’t been the haka – a Maori chant made popular by the All Blacks rugby team from New Zealand, where the Maori people are indigenous.
Trinity performs is its own version of the Sipi Tau, a war chant performed by the Tongan national rugby team, the ‘Ikale Tahi. According to assistant coach Jason Dibble, the chant calls out to their ancestors, to teams from the past and future for help.
“We had people in the community tell us that, ‘yeah, it’s OK to do it,’” Dibble said. “But really, since we are all Tongans for the most part – we have a few Samoans – we really need to be doing a Sipi Tau.”
The genesis of the pregame dance started in the back of Dibble’s economics classroom in 2005. Started by former linebacker Richie Kautai, the original performances were essentially copies of the All Blacks’ haka routine. But that has morphed over time, with the performance tweaked every other year or so, adding different moves and different chants.
“The boys kind of do minor tweaks and changes,” Dibble said. “We give them a lot of autonomy. They get to kind of create them.”
This year’s Sipi Tau, according to Dibble, has a call-and-response, with players asking “Are you going to hold the rope? Are you going to pound the rock? Are you ready to play?” Dibble reached out to a fluent Tongan speaker to ensure a valid translation.
Several of the upperclassmen on the team, second- or third-generation Tongans, make sure that the performance doesn’t veer into the realm of camp. Dibble credited one of this year’s Sipi Tau leader, senior defensive back George Moeakiola, for keeping the tone serious and reverential.
“It’s real important to honor the tradition, and not be silly and goofy,” Dibble said. “And he’s serious about it. He understands it.”
Michigan transplant Chris Daniels adds depth to O-Line, D-Line
"Check that guy out," Euless Trinity coach Steve Lineweaver said, nodding over to one of his sizable linemen trotting out to the practice field. "He's 15 years old, and a young 15, at that."
Lineweaver was gawking over 6-4, 270-pound sophomore Chris Daniels, a transfer from Muskegon, Mich. Lineweaver didn't know much about Daniels, other than he was a recent move-in and already – despite being from the Class of 2016 – held a college offer.
Daniels played as a freshman last season for San Antonio Roosevelt, which made the Class 5A Division II playoffs and finished 9-3, losing to Cibolo Steele in the area round. In the spring, Daniels transferred to Mona Shores High School in Muskegon, and drew the eyes of Michigan college recruiters during his short stay there. According to Rivals.com, he picked up an offer from Western Michigan, and participated in the University of Michigan’s football camp over the summer.
During one of its regional combines in Chicago, Rivals.com’s Josh Helmholdt picked Daniels as one of the underclassmen. Wrote Helmholdt in early May:
It's unclear whether Daniels will see a lot of playing time; after all, he's had all of one walk-through practice with Trinity. But it's clear that he adds to an already impressive stockpile of size for the Trojans on the offensive and defensive lines.
All five offensive linemen were either returning starters or members of a rotation: center Saia Mose (6-2, 288); guards Patrick Vahe (6-3, 253) a Texas pledge, and Mosese Vakasiuola (6-2, 256), and tackles Moses Ngugutau (6-2, 300) and Lem Galea'i (6-5, 299), a Oklahoma State pledge. Tight end Will Taylor (6-3, 265) is also back. Defensively, Trinity graduated both its ends from last year, Sam Tevi and Gaius Vaenuku - the Utah signee who died in a July car accident. But the team returns tackle Hafoka Olie (6-0, 280) and four other upperclassmen who are 6-1 or taller and 260 pounds or heavier.
When Hebron's first practice ended a few minutes before 10 a.m., safety Jamal Adams said the heat wasn't too bad. But the senior, who is one of the state's top recruits, was headed for the ice bath.
The ice-cold water can be startling at first, he said.
"But honestly, right now, I'm just going to jump in."
Adams jumped into -- well, slid into -- the large ice bath with teammates Brian Drew, Clay Holford, Zach Rogers, Carson Proffitt and Daniel Wise. Those are some of the players Adams hopes will help Hebron make a deep playoff run in his final season.
"One game at a time, but we definitely know what our goal is," Adams said. "It's a state championship. And we've got the guys and the coaches to do it."
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Brooks Burgin ought to be pretty familiar with the Highland Park offense.
The 6-1, 180-pound junior quarterback will be the team’s starter this season, two years after big brother Brady Burgin led Highland Park to a 12-1 record and a trip to the third round of the playoffs.
“You can tell he has a big brother that has played the system,” Highland Park coach Randy Allen said. “He’d had four or five years in it.”
The biggest difference between Brooks and Brady, Allen said, is the younger brother’s ability to run the ball.
“He’s got a really quick first two or three steps,” Allen said of Brooks. “He looks to run when he doesn’t have things open.”
Brady Burgin threw for 3,313 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011.
Touted QB Lindell Stone not at Monday practice
Incoming freshman quarterback Lindell Stone did not practice with Highland Park on Monday.
Stone has been in middle school in Southlake, but he was expected to transfer to Highland Park during the offseason.
The 6-1, 180-pound freshman received national attention after ESPN reported that he’d received a scholarship offer from UCLA in June. Since that report, though, neither the Stones nor UCLA have confirmed the offer
Highland Park coach Randy Allen was mum on the subject.
“I know that our two quarterbacks on the freshman team this morning were Michael Clarke and John Welfelt,” Allen said. “That’s it."
A pair of Lancaster seniors, quarterback Chris Thomas and defensive end Ashton Bryant, have big shoes to fill this fall.
Thomas takes over for University of Houston recruit Demarcus Ayers, who gained over 3,100 yards and accounted for 38 touchdowns last fall.
“There’s a little pressure,’’ said the 5-8, 160-pound Thomas following Monday’s first workout. “But I played a little bit last year and that helps. The two things I worked on the most this summer was my speed and throwing the ball more accurately.’’
Last year’s versatile backup, Nick Harvey, transferred to Fort Bend Travis.Thomas saw some action at wide receiver in addition to handling quarterback duties for the scout team.
Bryant switches from strong side to weak side end, a position that Texas A&M recruit Daeshon Hall played while making 29 sacks the last two seasons. Hall was named The News’ 2012 Defensive Player of the Year.
"Switching to the weak side is something I look forward to," said Bryant, a 6-1, 215-pounder. “On the strong side, you have to hold your ground more and contain. On the weak side, you can be more aggressive and get up the field."
As a Class 4A Division II state finalist a year ago (losing 17-7 to Cedar Park), Lancaster wants even more to take the final step this time, Thomas said. He showed his dedication by dying his hair orange days before practice started. But so far not many teammates have followed suit.
Family ties for Lancaster coach
In the waning moments of Lancaster’s opening day practice, head coach Chris Gilbert gave a thumbs-up sign across the field to the Tigers’ unofficial assistant coach, Ivary Cooks.
Cooks is Gilbert’s brother, older by four years.“He always has plenty of suggestions,’’ said a smiling Gilbert, beginning his third year at Lancaster. “After a game, he’ll break down all the departments, coaches and players.’’
And then in a more serious vein: “He always supports me and that’s something coaches need every now and then."
Cooks, owner and operator of a barber shop in Dallas, closes on Mondays and is a regular at Tigers’ practice.
“I look forward to football all year long,’’ said Cooks. “My brother and his coaching staff have done a tremendous job. They are dedicated to the kids. In my shop, my brother can get whatever he wants.’’
Lancaster not short on talent
If a fantasy football league extended to the high school level, then Lancaster wide receiver Nick Alexander would be a player to consider adding. The Arizona State commit is the leading returning receiver (28 catches, 506 yards, seven touchdowns) on a team that figures to throw a lot.
The talent does not stop there. Over the years, the Tigers have sent some excellent defensive backs to the college level. The next in line appears to be safety Vontre McQuinnie, an Oklahoma Sooners commit. Handling duties at running back is junior Shannon Simpson, a stocky, powerful runner. He’ll operate behind an offensive line that contains three returning starters.
As a freshman last season, Lovejoy quarterback Bowman Sells was spectacular, throwing for 2,632 yards and 25 touchdowns and earning an offer from Clemson.
Going into his sophomore year and first day of practice, Sells is not only looking to improve on his play, but also his leadership.
"I think I need to work on being a vocal leader more," Sells said. "I'm kind of a quiet guy, so I need to work on really speaking up and getting my teammates going."
Head coach Matt Green said it was hard for Sells to be a leader as a freshman, but believes it is something he will get better as this season.
"I think now for him to really improve he's got to be the leader on the field," Green said. "He's got to bring the best out in his teammates. As a freshman it was hard to ask him to do that, he pretty much had to take care of himself."
One of the things that is being emphasized at Lovejoy's first football practice of the season is improving its offense.
Senior running back Daniel Sefcik acknowledged that they are looking to improve a "lack of knowing the playbook with new coaches" from last season. This will be head coach Matt Green's second year with the team and he said that right now they are looking to fully implement the offensive scheme.
"We've been here a year," Green said. "We're doing the same things we did a year ago and our kids have a much better knowledge base. So for us I think the emphasis is to really hit the ground running with the plays both on offense and defense."
Lovejoy will return seven offensive starters from last season.
New Plano East coach Randy Jackson said Monday afternoon that he had a few extra butterflies as he prepared for practice. But he seemed as thrilled as any of his players to get started.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Four years ago, I was going out to coach a 2A school.”
In those four years, Jackson has moved from 2A Lone Oak to 4A Mesquite Poteet and now to 5A Plano East, the largest school in the state. A pretty rapid advancement.
“I was lucky,” he said. “But I’ll take it.”
In 2010, Jackson took over a Mesquite Poteet program that had won one game in two seasons. Over the next three years, Jackson’s Poteet teams were 30-9. Now he’s at the top of a Plano East team that finished 5-4 last year and missed the playoffs.
One thing he’ll emphasize the next few days is the pace of practice.
“We’re going to move really, really fast,” he said. “Every coach does things differently. They’ve just got to get used to me.”
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Plano West took the field at 7 a.m. Monday with the highest expectations in school history. The Wolves, who advanced to a Class 5A Division II regional final last year, are hoping to make an even deeper run this season and win its first district title since 2004.
"We're looking really good," said running back Auston Anderson, a senior who rushed for 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns last season and is orally committed to Northwestern. "Everybody looks like they've been working out. Nobody looks sluggish or tired. We looked focused."
Anderson and fellow running back Sotonye Jamabo (1,697 yards, 24 TDs last season) give Plano West a terrific combo in the backfield, but Plano West's biggest emphasis in fall practice will be defense. Only two starters return from a defense that allowed 35 points per game.
"We were real good on offense last year, but the focus right now is to get our defensive players in the right position and get them playing hard," coach Mike Hughes said. "To win a state championship, we've got to play better defense."
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Southlake Carroll switched its first practice to 7:30 a.m. to Dragon Stadium with a heavy thunderstorm soaking the high school’s grass practice fields through the night. Even with the last-minute notice, Carroll got buses and carpools to shuttle players to its new location and start on time.
Setting a Dragon Stadium attendance record?
With Allen and Southlake Carroll opening the season at Dragon Stadium, Carroll ISD athletic director Kevin Ozee already is making arrangements to handle the expected capacity crowd.
Dragon Stadium, over the last few years, has increased capacity to approximately 12,500. Last year’s opener at Allen’s new stadium between the two drew approximately 20,000. The Dragon attendance stadium record is 13,300 set in a Euless Trinity vs. Coppell 2010 Class 5A regional final.
Big news in Lincoln
Southlake Carroll kicker Drew Brown was on the cover of the Omaha World Herald sports section this summer when he committed to Nebraska. A color picture of Brown kicking for Carroll was on the front page.
Brown’s older brother Kris Brown was a Nebraska kicker following a standout career at Carroll. Although only 3 years old when Kris was at Nebraska, Drew has grown up around Cornhuskers traditions.
“Crazy, like a dream come true,” Drew told the World Herald.
Filling in nicely
The priority for Southlake Carroll is improving its offensive line, led by 6-3, 285-pound center Evan Brown. Carroll has several players injured during the spring, and how fast the group comes together will be a priority for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 23 scrimmage vs. Duncanville at Dragon Stadium.
Even though he’ll be a first-year starter, junior Ryan Agnew is considered a strong replacement for departed three-year starter Kenny Hill at quarterback. Carroll also has a deep set of receivers that includes Parker Fentriss, Luke Timian, Keaton Duhon (son of Carroll principal Shawn Duhon), Ryan Weigel and Ryan McGiboney.
“It’s as good any anyone group of receivers we’ve had when I was here,” Carroll coach Hal Wasson said.