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07/14/20

Under The Microscope: Week 14

Cover Photo courtesy of The Houston Chronicle.

District 18-6A was one of the few statewide that went completely unaffected by UIL realignment.

With no new teams in and none leaving either, it gives us a pretty good idea of what the playoff picture could look like. Let’s take a look at which key players return for which schools and try and get a better look at what the playoffs could look like for the Houston ISD schools.

Bellaire

The second place finisher in 18-6A last season was the Bellaire Cardinals, and it was about as good as they could’ve expected to do.

It’s been quite a long time since a team not named Lamar won the district (more of that in a second) so Bellaire’s season should be considered as a success – the question is; can we expect the same in 2020? I think it might be tough.

The Cardinals lose boatloads of offensive talent, and will have to completely re-tool that unit. Quarterback Darius Reed and his top target Willie McCoy have graduated, and Reed’s backfield-mate Da’Veon Ford transferred to North Shore. Replacing all that offensive talent won’t be easy.

The good news is Rodney Dansby is one of the district’s best defensive players at linebacker, and he returns to lead what should be a good Bellaire defense. More good news is that the Cardinals won’t be going into the quarterback transition completely blind, as Tim Martin saw some snaps last season.

There are plenty of holes to fill, but Bellaire has been consistently good in this district, and I think the Cardinals get back into the playoffs this season – though it might not be in that No. 2 spot.

Chavez

One team that will be trying to steal a spot – perhaps Bellaire’s – is Chavez.

After finishing fifth a season ago, the Lobos will be hungry to break into the postseason after being just a game away last season and I think they pull it off too. Unlike Bellaire, the Lobos return talent at all the skill positions on offense.

DaShawn Daniels was the district Offensive MVP last season at running back, while receiver David Jernigan joined him on the first-team all-district squad. If that’s not enough, LaMarcus Simmons returns at quarterback after a second-team all-district season.

Also unlike Bellaire, there are major questions on the defense. The Lobos are going to have to figure out who steps up on that side of the ball, but the offense should be able to run with anyone in the district. I have Chavez sliding on up into one of the final playoffs spots this season.

Heights

Despite a 4-6 finish, Heights squeaked into the playoffs because all four wins happened to be in district play.

Fortunately for Heights, I think they’ll be even better this season. Jalen Morrison is back to lead the offense at quarterback after being voted as offensive Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore last season, and Kendrick Rhymes joins him the backfield as a fellow first-team all-district standout.

Those two will operate behind an offensive line that returns a whopping four all-district picks; two first-teamers and two second-teamers. The all-district honors continue on the defensive side of the ball with the return of Demone Green and Brian Mays.

It’s pretty obvious that Heights was a talented young team last season. That means the Bulldogs will be a talented older team this season, with guys in impact positions who have plenty of varsity experience.

Heights finished in third last season, and I have the Bulldogs leap-frogging Bellaire into the No. 2 spot in the district this season.

Lamar

Despite an 0-3 start, the machine kept on churning at Lamar.

The Texans played a challenging non-district schedule before its typical steamroll through 18-6A. Lamar hasn’t lost a district game in nearly a decade, and own a 66-game district win streak. Katy broke the state record for consecutive district wins last season, and the Tigers streak currently sits at 73, so one more perfect season and Lamar will own the second-longest district win streak in state history.

Because of that, I’m going with Lamar to win the district once again and it shouldn’t be close. After winning 66 in a row, Lamar will get the benefit of the doubt until some team proves otherwise.

All that being said – Lamar actually loses a good amount of talent. Troy Tisdale and Alontai Brewer are gone at quarterback and running back respectively, but there’s good news for Tisdale’s replacement. Lamar returns Roshane Cruickshank, who may be the best wide out in the district.

The Texans return a good defense headlined by linebackers Oliver Jack and Cameron Bradley, which will continue the tradition of great defenses at the school. Lamar didn’t let up more than 22 points in district play in 2019, and the defense should be every bit as good next season.

The game to watch out for next season will be Lamar vs. Heights. The Bulldogs nearly pulled off the upset last season, as Lamar escaped with a 27-22 win. All the offensive talent is back at Heights, so that’s the game I’m keeping my eye on.

Sam Houston

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Sam Houston.

The Tigers have some serious rebuilding to do following a 1-9 season that saw the only win come against Wisdom in non-district play. The Sam Houston defense let up more than 40 points in each of those nine losses, while scoring more than 14 points in just one of those games. The margin of defeat was pretty wide.

Barre’on Shuler and Desman Carson return to lead what could be an improved defense, and the offense has a lot of questions to answer. I don’t know who steps up on offense, but they’ll need some new talent in the worst way.

Westbury

Like Sam Houston, Westbury won just one game last season. Unlike Sam Houston, that one win was a district game – spoiler: it was against Sam Houston.

The Huskies have just as much re-tooling to do as Sam Houston does, but it returns the most talent on the opposite side of the ball. Westbury will have something to work with on offense with the return of running back Earl Henry and tight end Josh Randolph – each of whom made an all-district team.

Randolph also made all-district on the defensive line, but the defense will need some other players to step up. Henry and Randolph are Westbury’s only returning all-district players, so they’ll be counted on to carry the load.

Westside

Earlier, I said that I expect Chavez to move up from fifth and claim a playoff spot this season – that isn’t good news for fourth-place finished Westside.

Part of why Westside was able to claim a playoff spot last season was the play of District MVP quarterback Akeem Benjamin. But Benjamin has graduated now and replacing him won’t be easy. The good news is whoever his replacement winds up being will have Dorian Washington to throw to. Washington is one of the more skilled wide receivers in the district.

Larante Lewis and Freddy Brown will lead the defense, but there are holes to fill there as well. I like Chavez to slide up into fourth to take Westside’s spot at the moment, but that could change depending on what the talent replacement is like at Westside. I have them in fifth right now, but don’t count out the Wolves this season.

Team and Player to Watch

For the reasons I just discussed above, my team-to-watch is the Chavez Lobos.

They’ll be trying to take a spot – likely from Westside or Bellaire – to get into the playoffs. I think they have a great amount of offensive firepower coming back with LaMarcus Simmons and DaShawn Daniels in the backfield.

Daniels was the Offensive MVP of the district, after all, and his return in particular is what I think will power Chavez into the post-season.

For the record, my playoff teams are Lamar, Heights, Bellaire and Chavez, in that order.

My player-to-watch was a pretty easy choice: I went with Heights quarterback Jalen Morrison. If anyone can unseat Lamar for the district title for the first time in literally a decade, I think Morrison and Heights could be the ones to do it.

Morrison was only 15 years old last season. He can’t drive a car just yet, but nobody can question his ability to drive an offense at the highest level of high school football in the greatest football state in America.

Not only did he excel on the field, but Morrison is also among the tops in his class in terms of his GPA. As a coach, I would want a highly intelligent young man running my offense, and that’s what Heights has in Morrison.

After throwing for more than 2,400 yards and 23 scores as a sophomore, I expect even bigger things out of Morrison this season. That makes him an easy choice for my player-to-watch for 18-6A.

I think the Bulldogs are poised for a breakout year, and they could easily put Lamar on notice.