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07/21/20

Under The Microscope: Week 15

Cover Photo via The Houston Chronicle.

The UIL announced Tuesday morning that we will indeed have a fall season for 2020, but it will look a little different.

Class 1A through 4A will start on time and play its state championships on the original date of December 16-19. However, Houston has few teams in those classifications; most of the area will have a modified schedule.

The first day of practices for 5A and 6A will be September 7 with the first games coming on the weekend of September 24-26, about a month later than usual. Playoffs start on December 10 and the state championships will be held sometime in January.

It’s clear the UIL will do everything possible in order to secure a fall season. If for some reason it winds up not working out, we will have the comfort of knowing that Texas’ governing body for high school sports did everything it could to stick as close to the regular schedule as possible.

While it’s going to be weird regardless, it was always going to be. COVID-19 has changed most everything in our lives and this is no exception. Today’s news can be seen as nothing but a good thing for the sport, for our athletes and coaches, and for those of us who love the game. With that being said, we’re having a fall season! Let’s preview Katy ISD!

District 19-6A is the exact same as it’s been the last two seasons, which I love. It was one of my favorite districts to watch a season ago because it has a little bit of everything. Katy won the district for the 11th-straight time and spent most of the season ranked in the national top 10. Second-place Tompkins had a fantastic season as one of the best district runners-up in the state. Mayde Creek broke into the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and the final playoff spot went to Taylor, who made it farther than any other KISD school by making it to the state semifinals.

The question is, who’s coming back for 2020 and can we expect more of the same? I think so. Let’s start with the eight-time champion Katy Tigers.

Katy

The cog of any team is the quarterback, and Katy brings back a good one in Bronson McClelland.

He’ll have one of the best backfield-mates in the area in Pearland transfer Brandon Campbell, who is committed to USC. Campbell sat out last year and is now eligible after the transfer, and I’m excited to see how he fits in and if he can help carry Katy back to state. Ron Hoff was a good back for the Tigers a year ago, but an upgrade to Campbell could put the Tigers over the edge.

The defense owns some of the most known names in the area. Hunter Washington is one of the most highly recruited defensive backs in the country, and Ty Kana and Malik Sylla already have lengthy Division I offer lists as they head into their junior season. That gives Katy defensive playmakers at all three levels with Sylla on the line, Kana leading the linebackers and Washington in the secondary.

McClelland will lose his top target Jordan Patrick, and he’ll need some help on the outside, but I see no problems for Katy and no reason to not capture a 12th-straight district title.

Tompkins

If any team is to challenge Katy for a district title, my money is on Tompkins.

Like Katy, the Falcons return an excellent quarterback in Texas commit Jalen Milroe, who I believe is the best skill position player in the district. R.J. Smith was a great match for Milroe in the backfield the last two seasons, but his replacement could be just as good.

Marquis Shoulders was excellent on special teams last season, and played well in the playoffs at running back as Smith battled injuries. A Milroe-Shoulders backfield will absolutely compete with McClelland-Campbell for best in the district.

The offensive line is where Katy clearly has Tompkins beat. The Falcons have major question marks there and on defense, and the players who step into those spots will be the answer to if Tompkins can end Katy’s reign as district champs. Air Force commit Dru Polidore will be back to lead that defense, but others will need to step up.

Mayde Creek

Like Katy and Tompkins, Mayde Creek will return its best offensive player. Unlike Katy and Tompkins, its not the quarterback.

Julius Loughridge helped carry the Rams to their first playoff win since 1997 after running for more than 1,500 yards last season, earning him co-offensive MVP honors for the district. His return will help a lot, but it’s the absence of others that could hurt Mayde Creek more than Loughridge helps.

Coach Mike Rabe left to take the job at Katy’s brand new Jordan High, and in comes former Alief Taylor head man Brian Randle. There are also multiple holes to fill on defense. But I think the Rams are still talented enough to make it back into the playoffs.

Donte Jones saw time at multiple spots last season and should take over at quarterback full time this year. He and Loughridge give Katy ISD another solid backfield pairing, and I think they’ll be enough to have Mayde Creek back in the playoffs – but it will depend on who steps up into vacated starting roles, and how well the team adjusts to coach Randle – but there’s no reason to expect that won’t go smoothly. I think Randle and Loughridge lead Mayde Creek back to the playoffs.

Taylor

Despite a fourth-place district finish last season, Taylor still made an impressive run that fell one game short of a State Championship.

Division II is noticeably weaker than Division I in class 6A, and the Mustangs took every advantage of their road. It might’ve ended in a blowout to eventual champion Austin Westlake, but the season was a big success for Taylor. What’s even better than last seasons’ deep playoff run is that most of the talent from that team returns in 2020.

Not one team other team in Katy ISD returns more than six starters for either offense or defense. Taylor returns seven starters on offense AND defense, and it starts with what is one of the best offensive lines in the entire nation.

Earlier I mentioned that I thought Jalen Milroe is the best skill player in the district. That’s because I think Taylor offensive guard Bryce Foster is the best player in the district, and the rest of the line is nearly as good.

That line will be protecting a quarterback that threw for more than 2,000 yards last season in J. Jensen and a running back that ran for more than 1,300 yards in Casey Shorter. Once again, another great backfield in Katy ISD – I’m hardly surprised at this point.

The seven returning starters on defense will be invaluable as well, as Taylor returns what is one of the most experienced squads in the state – and that’s state semifinal experience at that. The the next-to-lowest enrollment in the district, I think Taylor could be primed for a run at state in Division II. I have them flip-flopping with Mayde Creek into the third-place slot in 19-6A, and I think the Mustangs could challenge for second or even first.

Seven Lakes

Another Katy team, another returning backfield.

Christian Beltran returns at quarterback along with Milton Jones and Nick David-West at running back, both of whom get plenty of snaps. While the backfield returns plenty of production at Seven Lakes, the rest of the offense does not.

The Spartans will have to rebuild their offensive line and replace some receivers. The defense has some questions as well, but the return of linebacker Adam North is a good start. Some think Seven Lakes could push for a playoff spot this year, and I agree – but I think Mayde Creek outlasts them.

In any event, the Spartans will likely have to beat Mayde Creek to get in, so watch out for that game.

Morton Ranch

It is quite possible that Katy ISD returns more offensive production than any other district in Texas.

Quarterback JayMarcus Wilson returns to lead Morton Ranch, and most of a good offensive line returns to protect him. Karsten Christopher received some very valuable experience at running back last season and he figures to fill in as a full time starter this season.

Wilson will also have a big target to throw to in tight end Zjorey Ross, though Morton Ranch will need some other receivers to step up and help. The defense will be pretty young as well, and I see the Mavs in a similar situation to that of Seven Lakes.

It’s a talented district, and Morton Ranch would likely be playoff bound in other districts, but I don’t see it happening here.

Cinco Ranch

The last team to beat Katy in district play was Cinco Ranch, all the way back in 2008. Unfortunately for the Cougars, I don’t think they’ll be beating Katy any time soon.

The Cougars went winless in coach Chris Dudley’s first season, but 10 returning starters could help them break through this season.

Evan Dunn returns at quarterback to lead the offense and Caleb Leapheart and Grayson Medford will be solid weapons for him. The defense has a lot of questions, but the returning offensive talent could help keep the Cougars in games.

Look for Cinco Ranch to make small steps in Dudley’s second year at the helm to try and build momentum for the future.

Team and Player to Watch

This week I’m switching it up and going with my player-to-watch first because it will help to set up my team-to-watch.

For my player-to-watch, I really wanted to go with Jalen Milroe because he deserves it – like I said, I think he’s the best skill position player in the district – but everyone is going to choose Milroe for 19-6A Offensive MVP, so I went in a less obvious direction to choose a more than deserving player.

Julius Loughridge is my 19-6A player-to-watch. I would say leading your school to its first playoff appearance in 11 years and first playoff win in 22 years qualifies him perfectly. As the offensive leader of the team, Loughridge will be tasked with leading the Rams back to the playoffs in a talented district. That’s no easy task, but I think he gets it done.

For my team-to-watch, I could have gone with Taylor or Tompkins because I think both will be really good. But I think Tompkins has the better shot to upset Katy, so the Falcons are my team-to-watch.

Jalen Milroe deserves all the praise he gets, and I think he’s the kind of leader that could lead a team to an historic upset, and the next Katy ISD team to beat Katy will have pulled off just that. The Tigers have won a state record 73-straight district games, and the Milroe-led Falcons could be the ones to end it.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Katy goes undefeated through district yet again for another district title, but Tompkins kept it close last year. A 35-30 loss for Tompkins to a top-10 team in the nation could turn into a win in 2020 if Katy isn’t a nationally ranked squad next season. Time will tell, but watch out for Tompkins in 2020.