Fall Ballin’ Preview – Through The Uprights

Through The Uprights

A look at local high school football teams competing at the Class 2A and 3A levels for the upcoming 2021 season.

By Stephen R. Farris

Special to The NavCo Chronicle

It’s that time of year again high school football fans. Last season was short of a disaster due to the pandemic situation, but most all games were played, and the state championship games went forward — just a little later than usual.

Taking a look at area teams, let’s begin with Class 2A. Navarro County has three teams listed as Class 2A teams, (Dawson, Frost, and Kerens), and three teams bordering the county line — Hubbard, Italy, and Wortham, competing in the same divisions with Navarro County teams.

Starting off in District 8-2A DII, Frost, Hubbard, and Wortham will be competing for the district title with Bremond, Chilton, and Mart.

Last year, the Mart Panthers finished the 2020 football season with an overall record of 14-1, taking the 10-2A district title with a 5-0 mark. The Panthers made it all the way to the Class 2A Division II championship game, only to fall to the Windthorst Trojans, 22-21. Bremond was runner-up in the district with a mark of 4-1, and overall record of 8-4, while making the playoffs and finishing as an area finalist. The Chilton Pirates finished 2-2 in district and an overall record of 8-5. The Pirates made it to the bi-district round in which they fell to the Tenaha Tigers, thus ending their season. The Hubbard Jaguars squeaked in as the No. 4 seed from District 10-2A DII with a record of 2-3 and 6-5 overall. Hubbard’s playoff entrance was cut short as they fell in a heartbreaker of a game to the SImms-Bowie Pirates, 8-6. The Wortham Bulldogs (1-4, 3-6) finished fifth in district, and the Frost Polar Bears (0-5, 1-8) ended the season in sixth place.

Taking a look at our local teams starting with the Polar Bears, head coach Randy Fulton looks to improve their position in District 10-2A DII, as the team looks to return to the playoffs. Frost has nine starters returning on both offense and defense this year.  Running back/Linebacker John Hendricks will split back field duties with fellow teammates Gabriel Townsend (FB/DE) and Elijah Rios (RB/LB). The quarterback position may not be determined until closer to the start of the season, but whoever it may be they’ll have several weapons in that of WR/DB Levi Fuller and WR/DB Cole Watson. Anchoring the front line this season should be Joseph Pierson, Tanner Patrick, Wesley Christensen, and Jaden Rowe. Look for offensive/defensive linemen Salvador Martinez III and Gustavo Ibarra to see plenty of action on both sides of the ball throughout the season as well.

Hubbard head coach Roger Masters’ Jaguars team should be in good shape to make a return to the playoffs in 2021, as they have seven returners back on offense, and six returning on defense. The 5’ 9” Kendan Johnson — made the all-district team in 2020 — should have a productive year at the quarterback position, handing the ball off to running back Shelby Noppeney and M.J. Ryman, and throwing to targets Kevin Whitworth (6’ 2”, 185, 4.4 WR/DB), Landyn Garcia (5’ 10”, 4.9 WR/DB), and tight-end Colton Bailes (5’ 11”). Throw in Nathan Jennings (WR/DB) and Blake Fowler (RB/LB) and the Jags should be set to make a lot of offensive noise against opposing teams this season. The offensive line should be pretty solid with Daniel Torres (6’ 0”, 220), Gibson Coleman (5’ 8”, 220), Jonathan Mills (6’ 2”, 220), Jackson Wallin, and Noel Rebollar. Defensively, Hubbard should be even more solid with Ryman at linebacker (97 tackles in 2020), defensive lineman Torres (45 tackles, 6 sacks in 2020), and defensive back Whitworth, who finished the 2020 season with three interceptions. Up front, the D-Line will have Torres, Coleman, Bailes, Parker Reed, and Rebollar. The linebacker corps show Noppeney, Ryman, Wallin and Fowler, and in the secondary, Whitworth, Garcia, and Jennings will threaten to shut down the opposition’s passing game.

Over in Wortham, head coach Chad Coker will have his Bulldogs team ready for competition and make a fight of it in District 10-2A DII for a playoff spot this season. The Bulldogs lost a few top players in Cade McCoslin, Jake McClellan, and Lane McDaniel. However, the team returns seven offensive starters and nine for the defensive side. Ryken Lewis will be at the helm at quarterback. He’ll have plenty of offensive weapons to choose from in the form of running back Tanner Bean — who rushed for over 1,500 yards last season and scored 16 rushing touchdowns — as well as running back Dawson Norcross, wide receivers Caleb Betts, Eli Norcross, Hernesto Reyes, Derek Bullard, and tight-end Cash Perez. The offensive line should provide big nights for the Bulldog runners throughout the season, as they are both big and experienced. On the O-Line this year will be Jason Evans, Anthony Fortoul, Mason Montgomery, Preston Sterling, Reese Reichert, and A.J. Molina, Defensively — upfront — Evans, Fortoul, Montgomery, Reichert, and Molina, Diego Saravia, and Perez will hold the front line. In the middle at the linebacker spots will be Dawson Norcross, Sterling, Michael Chasteen, Preston Batts, and Kendell Sherman. In the secondary, look for Betts, Eli Norcross, Reyes, Lewis, and Bullard to put a dent in the passing game of opponents.

Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine has Mart (preseason rank at No. 1 in Class 2A, DII) picked to win the district, followed by Bremond (preseason rank at No. 13 in Class 2A, DII), Chilton, Wortham, Hubbard, and Frost.

Needless to say, the road to the playoffs won’t be easy this season as both Mart and Bremond are reloaded … again. The Panthers will be aiming for a fourth state title in the last five years, with the Tigers breathing down their necks. That leaves the rest of the field battling it out for the final two playoff spots, but you can never underestimate what could happen this season. There could be a few upsets in the making.

Moving to District 8-2A, DII, the Italy Gladiators look to repeat as district champions, but they’ll face tough opposition in that of the Dawson Bulldogs, Kerens Bobcats, and Marlin Bulldogs. Italy finished the 2020 season with a 5-0 mark in district competition, and an overall record of 10-2, falling to Alvord in the second round of the playoffs, 35-7, finishing as an area finalist.  

Italy — under the direction of head coach Craig Horn — have six offensive and seven defensive starters returning this season, including quarterback Jayden Saxon (6’ 3”, 240), and running back Jaden Barr. Saxton contributed to the Gladiators success last season, rushing for 638 yards, and scoring 10 touchdowns, while passing for 806 yards and 7 TDs. Barr chipped in with 1,826 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground. Shoring up the offensive line again this year will be Omar DeLaHoya, Defensively, the team shapes up with returning defensive end Kiamana Nakoa, defensive lineman Julius Williams, linebackers Gabe Martinez and Jay’lon Hernandez, along with several newcomers. Martinez finished last season with 123 tackles, Nakoa snagged 51 tackles and made 9 sacks on opposing QBs, while Hernandez wound up with a total of 44 tackles defensively. Other players you should watch will be running back Colt Horn, and kicker Jesus Luna.

Vying for the No. 2 spot will be Dawson and Kerens — according to DCTFM — but that doesn’t necessarily rule out that either team could finish on top of District 8-2A, DI. Dawson made it to the playoffs last year as the No. 2 seed from the district, finishing in at 3-2, and 6-5 overall. The Bulldogs played Tolar in the first round, falling to the Rattlers in a shootout, 45-42.

Despite losing a few key players to graduation this spring, second-year coach Jimmy Thompson’s Bulldogs still possess a lot of returning talent, that is also combined with playoff experience, to this year’s team. Isaiah Johnson is slated to take snaps from behind the center this season. He’ll be joined by running backs Colby Springer and Cade Onstott. The trio should have a pretty solid offensive front line in which to operate behind, with returners Hunter Boatright, Payton McCormack, and Eddie Guerra steadying up the trenches. Boatright and Guerra will have double-duty on the defensive frontline, with McCormack (126 tackles in 2020) keeping the opposition straight at his linebacker spot. Johnson, Onstott, and Springer round out the defense in the secondary.

Across the county on the eastern border, head coach Ted Patton’s Kerens Bobcats team went from a 1-4 start to the No. 3 playoff seed in District 8-2A, DI last season. Kerens (3-2, 4-7) fell to the Crawford Pirates in the bi-district round, 49-14. This year, the Bobcats have a wealth of talent returning with eight on offense, and eight on defense. Brayden May — newcomer of the year his freshman season for District 8-2A, DI — is back as the QB, along with the versatile and talented Damarya Baxter, who finished the 2020 campaign with 725 yards on the ground, while snagging 148 yards catching the ball and scored a total of 11 touchdowns. He also showed his versatility on the defensive side, making 106 tackles. Rounding out the offense will be WR Jaylon Harris, and tight-ends Austin Greene and Jarod Brackens. Top players in the trenches on the O-Line will be Caleb Demoss, Chris Jones, Patrick Crabtree, and Treylynn Lindsay. Defensively, Greene, Demoss, and Jones will be upfront. The Bobcats linebacking corps will consist of Izick Smith and Jacory Agnew, while Harris brings his experience in the secondary at DB.

There’s no doubt about it. District 8-2A, DI is loaded with talent so it’ll be interesting to see which of the top four teams — Italy, Dawson, Kerens, and Marlin — will take the district crown this season. DCTFM has Italy (ranked No. 20 in Class 2A, DI) picked to win the district, followed by Kerens at the No. 2 spot, Dawson as the No. 3 seed, Marlin at No. 4, the Axtell Longhorns at No. 5, and the Cayuga Wildcats at No. 6.

Shifting up a class to the 3A level, in District 7-3A, DII, the Blooming Grove Lions nearly came away with the crown after finishing in a first-place tie with the Palmer Bulldogs. Unfortunately for the Lions, it was the Bulldogs getting the nod as the No. 1 playoff seed. It wasn’t an easy task for both the Bulldogs and the Lions, as they had to stave off the Edgewood Bulldogs (4-2, 6-5), and the Rice Bulldogs (4-2, 5-6). Edgewood made the 2020 playoffs as the district’s No. 3 seed, while Rice grabbed the No. 4 spot. Just out of contention for a playoff spot were the Scurry-Rosser Wildcats, Mildred Eagles, and the Dallas Gateway Charter Academy Gators.

As for the Lions, head coach Jeremy Gantt and the rest of the Blooming Grove team are chomping at the bit to bring home a district title this season and make a deeper run in the playoffs. Top returners for the Lions are Kelton Bell (5’ 11’, 178, 4.6) and Timmy Hamilton (6: 1;, 190, 4.7). Bell gets the nod at QB, and Hamilton should get the majority of carries at running back. Levi Derry is listed as the other QB and may see considerable action as well as running back Jalen Coleman. Bell will have several wide receivers available when throwing the ball in that of Carter Grant, De’marco Debrow, tight-end Ben Baumgartner, and more than likely, utility athlete Noah Hutchinson who comes in with 4.5 speed in the 40. Operating up front in the trenches will be offensive linemen Kian Long, Adam Tovar, Adam Sanchez, and David Mirafuentes. On the defensive side of the ball, Carter Grant shores up the outside of the line at defensive end, with Sanchez and Mirafuentes up front, possibly with Long in there as well. Grant recorded five sacks last season. At linebacker, Trent Nicholson will make sure opposing threats won’t make it very far, returning from a stellar performance last year, recording 104 tackles. Tovar will be joining Nicholson in the middle, along with Baumgartner.

The Rice Bulldogs look to make it six straight playoff appearances this season. However, the road to the playoffs may be a little rough with only three offensive and five defensive starters coming back. Head coach Andy Mills is facing a rebuilding year, but luckily, he has several players to rely on for leadership and pass their playoff experience on to the younger guys coming up. The Bulldogs should be solid up front with offensive linemen Marcus Diaz, Ethan Gray, and Taylor Hrnjak making the way for running back Juan Paredes and Luke Chapman. Zack Myers can pull double duty both as a passer and runner. Myers threw for 571 yards last season, and rushed for 237, combining both for 11 TDs. On the outside, look for Myers to target wide receivers Dalton McDonald and Damien Aguilar. Gray, Hrnjack, Diaz, McDonald (DE) will be up front on defense as well, while Paredes and Chapman fill in defensively as linebackers.  

Aguilar will need some help in the secondary as he is the only returning defensive back for the Bulldogs entering practice.

After a 2-1 start in 2020, the Mildred Eagles hit a rough spot the rest of the season, beating Dallas Gateway Charter, 46-24, to keep out of the cellar in District 7-3A, DII. However the 2021 season should provide better things for head coach Duke Dalton’s Eagles team, especially on offense with six starters coming back. Defensively, Mildred still has experience with four returning starters from last year, but they’ll have to bring in younger talent to fill in and learn quickly.

One question — when it comes to the offense — is who will start at quarterback. Either way, the Eagles should be in great shape with two talented individuals, Austin Wing and Ethan Frye, competing for the starting job honors. In the backfield for the Eagle arsenal are running backs Michael York, Ian Stewart, and Jordan Jones. On the outside will be WRs Cody Hayes and Sean Morgan. Hayes finished last season with 536 yards and 11 TDs receiving. On the O-Line, Breylon Vanibuls (6’ 2”, 275), Hayden Thomas (6’ 1”, 260), and Marc Pineda will open holes for Mildred’s running game. All three players will be on the D-Line for the Eagles, joined by defensive ends Micah Owens and Gabe Kloecker. Wing plays linebacker on defense, where he’ll be joined by teammates Kaleb May and Gabe Irvine. In the secondary, Jade Rounsavall and Nick Carrizales will be making it tough on opposing receivers.

DCTFM has the preseason favorite to win District 7-3A, DII listed as the Edgewood Bulldogs No. 1, followed by the Palmer Bulldogs at No. 2. No. 3 is Blooming Grove, Scurry-Rosser at No. 4, Rice at No. 5, and Mildred and the Gators No. 6 and No. 7 respectively.

In Class 1A (DI and DII), Navarro County doesn’t have any schools competing at that level, but in nearby Trinidad, Milford, Mount Calm, Penelope, and Coolidge, these teams provide plenty of action when it comes to Six-man football. So if you have a free Friday night during football season, venture out a short distance across the county line to enjoy some fast-paced gridiron action! From Kerens to Trinidad, it’s only a 10-minute drive on Hwy 31 East; Frost to Milford is just under 20 minutes (via Hwy 22 to FM 308 out of Mertens.); Dawson to Mount Calm is 15 minutes west on Hwy 31, passing through Hubbard; Penelope from Dawson is only 19 minutes out (via Hwy 31 to Hubbard, right on Hwy 171 in Hubbard, then left on FM 2114 West.); Dawson to Coolidge is 17 minutes, via Hwy 31 to Hubbard, left on Hwy 171, then a right onto Bell St.

(Information gathered from Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine and website, and also from MaxPreps.com. Some of the information may have changed since printing.)

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