Oilers, Crusaders to Battle for Top Spot in District 23-6A
By Alan Dale
Pearland stubbed its toe in the first round of the postseason to Dickinson, while Strake Jesuit seems to be throwing their hat in the ring as a city power. Hastings still has some fire -power under David Martel, while Dawson will be young. The top four spots could be a toss-up, but one thing is for sure — the scoreboards will be lit up with some high-powered offenses.
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VYPE Preseason Rankings
(Bold Denotes Playoff Teams)
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: J.D. Head, Pearland
OFFENSIVE MVP: Dylan Campbell, Strake Jesuit
DEFENSIVE MVP: Denzel Blackwell, Strake Jesuit
BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ja'Den Stewart, Pearland Dawson
SLEEPER TEAM: Pearland Dawson
Things were peachy for Pearland a year ago as the Oilers went 10-0 and ruled the district before dropping their playoff opener. Now to get back and do even more, they will count on nine returning starters to make it 20-straight playoff appearances. JD Head (Louisiana Tech-commit) is back after having a stellar junior season breaking multiple school records at QB. Head passed for 2,250 yards and 24 TDs a year ago. Kele Linton, Tanner Tullos, Torrence Burgess, Caleb Mendez, Jaden Piece, Anton Simoeou and Trey Maeker will also key the team's bid to win another district title and one up their 2018 campaign for head coach Ricky Tullos. Once in the playoffs, the Oilers will look to avenge the first-round exit at the hands of Dickinson from a year ago. If Pearland wants to make a run at its first state title since 2010, the pieces are in-house to do so.
Strake Jesuit Crusaders
It will be a nip-and-tuck race between Strake Jesuit and Pearland for title rights, but this may be the year the Crusaders and head coach Klay Kubiak will flip the script. Kubiak returns six starters on both sides of the ball and is led by RB Dylan Campbell. Last season, Campbell busted loose for 1,300-plus yards and 17 trips to the end zone. Other key returners for the Crusaders include OL Barclay Briggs, TE William Dickason, ILB Christian Gordon, DB Denzel Blackwell and DE Grant Perry. If they can fill in the holes and find a new quarterback that can step in immediately, a third-straight playoff trip for the Crusaders is likely. The battle between Pearland and Strake Jesuit for district bragging rights last season was a great one and fans should expect the same this year.
About half of its defensive and offensive starters are back in 2019, so Alief Hastings has to be considered a playoff threat once again after going 7-5 last fall. The backfield is where things will start for the Hastings offense this year. Caleb Bowman (668 yards) and Terence Thomas (542 yards) could be the one-two punch the Bears need for early success. Other key returners include WR Kollin Jackson, DB Chris Uzoechi and OLB Emmanuel Ibeabuchi. This group will spearhead things for the Fighting Bears, who must stay healthy and come of age quickly with a large amount of youthful depth. Head coach David Martel is also tasked with replacing QB Javon Williams, who is now at Sam Houston State.
Pearland Dawson Eagles
Going 6-5 last year, Pearland Dawson extended their postseason streak to 10-straight years. It will be a challenge to start another decade of playoffs with only four offensive and five defensive starters back for second-year head coach Mike Allison. They do have some heavy-hitters returning, however, in OL Calib Perez, FB/ATH Bobby Wooden, RB Ja'Den Stewart – who had more than 500 yards rushing last year – DB/ATH Blake Smith (96 tackles) and LB Darien Flynn. "We must have a 100-percent commitment to the program by all players," Allison said. "We are going to have several players that will be playing on Friday night for the first time, but I am confident that they will be able to do some good things."
George Ranch Longhorns
George Ranch was hanging around the top four in 2018, but that could be a monumental challenge this fall with only four offensive and two defensive starters back from a 4-6 team. The coaching staff does have two first-team, all-district returnees in Faybian Marks and Kevin Ireson to count on. Other key returners include WR Andre Falkquay, TE Ben Taylor, QB Sam Miller, DB Stephen Woods and WR Javon Gipson. Outside of that, needed depth and healthy bodies will go a long way to determine if the Longhorns will push for a playoff spot or just fight to stay out of the cellar.
Alief Taylor Lions
After a 3-7 season, Alief Taylor returns 10 starters for coach Brian Randle to work with. LB Isaiah Wheeler (81 tackles) and DE Nick Potts (54 tackles) will anchor the defensive unit for the Lions. Other players to watch include RG Just Eddy Mouelet, P Esteban Torres, S Faizal Akinlusi, ATH Langston Lee, DE Richard Outland, WR Ty'Dedrick Anderson and S Odera Chidume. This group will lead the way for a team that needs to improve "it's execution, getting the ball on the perimeter and allowing our athletes to make plays," Randle said.
The Brazoswood club comes off of a 1-9 season that featured a lone district win. They bring back only seven starters for new head coach Danny Youngs, who comes from Wichita Falls Hirschi. The OL has some pieces but the offensive skill spots need some help. The defense must consistently make some stops to stay in games. Players to watch include offensive linemen Mikel Richey and Alex Zavala, tight end Dominic Lopez and linebacker Kaleb Manning.
The Rams can count on six defensive starters to help an inexperienced offense that returns only two starters from last fall. The Rams went 0-10 last year but brings back CB Ayomide Ogunbunmi, LB Jahme Perry, DL Udah Harrison and QB Ja'marcus Ledet, who will be called upon by fourth-year head coach Aric Sardinea to make their presences known.