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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.
Fort Bend Marshall is ranked No. 11 in Class 5A in the state, is 18-2 overall, and 7-0 in District 24-5A.
FULSHEAR—Ronnie Courtney has coached a lot of great high school basketball teams. He’s won state championships at two schools: two at Willowridge and one at Fort Bend Bush.
And while this year’s Fort Bend Marshall team is 18-2, 7-0 in District 24-5A, and ranked No. 11 in Class 5A in the state, it has a long way to go to meet Courtney’s standard of greatness.
“Potentially, they have an opportunity to go as far as they decide they want to go,” said Courtney, in his second season at the helm of the Buffs. “Talent-wise, against previous teams, they’re a long way off. You go all the way back to Willowridge and Bush, where I never had a losing season and never lost more than 10 games.
“This team is good in its own way, and they play so hard for me. I really enjoy coaching them and they make practice so much easier and so much fun.”
Marshall’s effort and firepower was on full display Tuesday as it routed Fulshear, 97-61, to stay undefeated in district. The Buffs, who play with relentless defensive pressure that leads to overwhelming pace on offense, forced 20 turnovers and scored 53 points in the first half. They scored at the rim, from long range (eight of 18 from 3) and at the line (15 of 25 free throws).
The Buffs are outscoring opponents by an average of 22 points per game. Their only two losses have come against Class 6A schools Ridge Point and Bush.
“I like the direction, but I’m not satisfied,” Courtney said. “No coach is ever satisfied. I’m trying to get to 16-0 (in district). That road is not easy. Foster is really good. We’ve got to deal with Hightower. So, it’s not going to be an easy chore, but it’s attainable.”
Four observations from watching Marshall handle Fulshear on Friday:
>> LOWE COMING INTO HIS OWN
Junior point guard Jaland Lowe was once again exceptional for the Buffs, scoring a game-high 31 points to go with five rebounds and five assists.
“I’m just trying to be a better leader and do what my team needs me to do, day in and day out,” said Lowe, a smooth-scoring left-hander. “I’m just trying to perfect that. I think there are a lot of things I still need to work on. I’m trying to get well-rounded everywhere.”
Courtney said Lowe is more confident.
“Last year, he was trying to feel his way,” Courtney said. “Now, he’s my guy. I can’t do without him on the floor.”
.@jalandlowe caps off a 20-point half for him and a 50-plus point half for @MarshallBuffs with a deep buzzer-beating 3-ball. Buffs putting on a show, lead 53-28 at the break. #txhshoops @FBISDAthleticspic.twitter.com/dUR1LJtRB4 — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Courtney likes telling a story about when Lowe asked to meet him in his office one day. He had drawn up some plays and wanted to show his coach.
Courtney, without hesitation, allowed Lowe to put the plays in.
“He is truly a coach on the floor, and he’s the type of kid you want to be a leader of your program,” Courtney said.
>> MARSHALL A THRILLER ON COURT, TOO
Senior wing Chris Marshall was a four-star recruit in football. He’ll probably be playing on Sundays someday. At the Under Armour All-America all-star game earlier this month in Orlando, Marshall’s performance stood out most as ESPN broadcasts and analysts raved about him.
However, as electric as Marshall is on the field, his first love is hoops. It shows in his play. The 6-foot-4 Marshall scored 14 points with three rebounds and three assists. And while he is a highlight-reel dunker because of his insane athleticism—his breakaway one-handed slam in the first quarter had fans from both teams out of their seats—Marshall is a gifted shooter and has a flair for passing, often finding open teammates with crosscourt passes.
“You probably won’t even believe it, by my favorite (sport) is basketball,” Marshall said. “That’s what I love to do. I could hoop all day. I love competing against other great players every time I come out here on the court. I come out here and give it my all against whoever I’m playing against.”
.@chhris_m!! @MarshallBuffs @FBISDAthletics #txhshoopspic.twitter.com/g020NWhoCR — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Marshall has a maturity and poise on the court this year that he credits to Courtney.
“Hall of Famer. Legend. I’ve learned so much from him,” Marshall said. “Leadership. Me being a better leader my senior year and coming out and leading these juniors and sophomores. I ain’t ever had the chance to play in the playoffs in basketball, so that’s my goal this year. Go win state. We’ve got the team. We can do it.”
>> STRONG SUPPORT
Courtney has been pleased with the emergence of players like juniors Jaylen Reedus and Trey Roberts.
Reedus is a strong, physical rebounder who gives the Buffs quickness and intensity in the paint. He had eight points and six rebounds.
Roberts is a knockdown shooter whose confidence continues to grow with each game. He made two of three triples.
Senior Omani Ozenne (11 points, seven rebounds) and sophomore Chris Catchings (eight points, five rebounds) also contributed and enjoyed spurts of outstanding play.
“Those guys will help us go as far as we want to go,” Courtney said.
>> ONE FOR ALL
Aside from elite coaching and playmaking, Marshall has a desire and familial dynamic that players say will get them far.
“We’re all bought in to this,” Lowe said. “Having everybody with the same mindset of really wanting to win and make a great run is what’s got us clicking. This team plays hard. Teams know every day we’re going to give it our all. We don’t want to lose, so that’s what keeps us going.”
Chris Marshall has been a part of great teams. The Marshall football team is perennially a regional contender year in and year out, and he has been a huge part of its success the last two years. He knows a good team when he sees it—it’s a big reason why he chose to go to Texas A&M—and said Marshall has it.
“Our bond is what’s got us,” Marshall said. “We compete every day and work hard every day in practice. Us coming out here, we have that bond because of that work and we’re able to build that chemistry every time we step on the court.”