New district brings competition, quality depth for Fort Bend Marshall
Fort Bend Marshall head football coach James Williams opened the UIL’s 2022-2024 biannual realignment packet Thursday morning, looked at his new district, and was pleased.
“I kind of anticipated this,” Williams said. “It wasn’t a surprise. But to see it in writing and actually happen was like, ‘Wow. OK. Here we go.’”
Marshall, a perennial regional powerhouse and state finalist in 2018 and 2019, was realigned into District 9-5A, Division II. The only returning district opponents are Fort Bend ISD rival Willowridge and Galena Park. Otherwise, it’s a new slate of competition for Williams and the Buffs.
The district includes Dayton, Nederland, Port Neches-Groves, Santa Fe, and Texas City. That quintet was aligned its own district in previous years.
Texas City and Port Neches-Groves each made the playoffs last year and went multiple rounds. Nederland finished 6-4, but 3-4 in district and out of the playoffs. Dayton went 2-8 overall last year, 1-6 in district, and Santa Fe went 0-10.
Galena Park finished second to Marshall in district last season, and Willowridge barely missed the playoffs after making it in 2020.
“The quality is there,” Williams said. “Nederland is a perennial playoff team. PNG is in the playoffs every year. Texas City is always a good team. Willowridge is a rivalry. Galena Park always plays us solid. Dayton can turn their program around. It’s going to be a competitive district across the board. I really believe that. You can’t overlook anybody.”
That will be a change for Williams and Marshall. They had been previously aligned in a district with schools from Houston ISD like Northside, Waltrip, Sharpstown, Austin, Sterling, and Madison. Madison and Sterling each went 6-5 and made the playoffs last year, but Northside, Waltrip, Sharpstown and Austin went a combined 6-33.
But with Houston ISD opting to move all its schools into the 6A classification, Williams knew he'd have a different district in some way for this realignment. He was optimistic about what that would mean for his program.
Marshall was a preseason favorite to make it to state out of Region III-5A, Division II. And the Buffs started hot, going 10-0 in the regular season and beating opponents by an average of 51.2 points per game.
Marshall gave up only 69 total points during the regular season. Forty-one of those came against non-district opponents Aldine Eisenhower and Fort Bend Elkins.
Only once during the regular season, Week 1 against Eisenhower, did Marshall’s starters play into the second half of a game. But the Buffs were shocked in the bi-district round of the playoffs, falling 42-21 to Barbers Hill.
“You don’t want a schedule where you just run through and beat everybody easily,” Williams said. “You need adversity. You need stress. You need those battles in the regular season that help prepare you for the playoffs. You need games that force a team to develop, improve, and fight. You’ve got to have those before you get to the playoffs, and I believe the teams in this district are going to give us that.”
Williams’ non-district slate is impressive. The Buffs open with Klein in Week 1 and then have a marquee showdown with state power Crosby in Week 2 before finishing non-district play with Alief Taylor in Week 3.
Crosby went to the state semifinals last year and the state championship game the year before. The two played in the 5A-Division II regional final in 2020, a 37-28 Crosby win.
“We had a great game with them two years ago,” Williams said. “Coach (Jerry Prieto) does a great job with that program. They’ve been to the state championship recently. I think it’ll be a good game between two good teams, two good programs playing. You always like to see those games early in the year. You don’t have to wait to the playoffs to play good teams. Even Klein in Week 1 is a good 6A team that we played some years ago and we split.”
Marshall beat Klein 32-31 in overtime in 2016 and fell to the Bearkats 27-7 in 2017.
Overall, Williams is excited about what’s in store for his team the next two years.
“It’s going to be a very competitive regular season for us, and I think it’ll help us down the line in the playoffs as well,” he said.