Cover Photo from The Houston Chronicle
If District 23-6A wasn’t competitive enough last season, the UIL decided to make it even more so by adding Shadow Creek – the reigning 5A Division I state champs – to the mix.
Now the district features two squads with state championship acumen with the Sharks and Pearland – who has played in two state title games since 2010. Add in Strake Jesuit and Pearland Dawson, and 23-6A has no shortage of teams that could make a deep playoff run.
Questions about how Shadow Creek will adjust to 6A ball after two-straight state championship appearances is the dominant preseason storyline. The Sharks have only played two seasons of varsity football in school; they don’t know what it’s like to not play for a state title. Will that change now that they’re competing in 6A? Let’s put 23-6A under the microscope.
I don’t know if any high school program in America can top a 31-1 start to school history with two state title appearances – Shadow Creek is the cream of the crop.
Fortunately for the Sharks, they’ll slot into the 6A Division II playoffs no matter what, which is important – Division II tends to be less packed with juggernauts compared to Division I. As proof of that, Katy Taylor made it to the Division II state semifinals last season after finishing fourth in its own district.
Shadow Creek returns talent at all the right spots, and it starts with Nike Elite 11 finalist Kyron Drones at quarterback. Drones had a phenomenal year as a first time starter, racking up nearly 3,500 yards and 46 touchdowns through the air.
On the receiving end of all that production will be C.J. Guidry and Randy Masters, each of whom are NCAA division one recruits themselves. If that’s not enough, Shadow Creek is known as a factory for producing NCAA-level talent on defense and the same can be said for this years’ squad. The Shark defensive attack will be led by the dominant Terrence Cooks at linebacker, and he’ll be joined by Jalen Emery and Jaylen Lane in the secondary.
There are some holes to fill at key positions, but Shadow Creek will be a force once again and are the clear favorites to win the district – the question is; can it win a title in class 6A?
Oh, and just in case y'all forgot how good the Drones-Guidry duo is...
I think the next three teams in this district are pretty clear, making for a solid group of four – but I have no clue how to order them. Here’s my best guess.
I went with Dawson in the two-spot for this district after a great year in 2019. None of the three teams I think could compete for this spot will be returning the quarterback, so it’s going to be tough to judge. For Dawson – that means no Myles Kitt-Denton, who was named district MVP in 2019.
Whoever fills in that spot will have a 1,000-yard rusher lining up next to him in the backfield in Ja’Den Stewart. There are questions on who will start at plenty of other offensive positions as well, but the return of Stewart is an important one. Fortunately for Dawson, the defense returns plenty of talent.
Cameron Whitfield will lead a talented unit from his spot at defensive end after earning 23-6A defensive player-of-the-year honors in 2019. The Eagles defense returns seven starters and figures to be the strength of the team as the young offense learns the ropes.
As I mentioned, the teams I have slotting in at Nos. 2, 3 and 4 will all have to replace a departing quarterback, but Pearland has a presumed starter waiting in the wings.
J.D. Head is out and Jake Sock could be in as the Oilers signal caller. Sock enters his junior season with some solid offensive weapons at his disposal. Torrance Burgess and Kennedy Lewis form a solid duo at running back, and Cedric Mitchell will have an impact at wide receiver.
The defense returns some talent as well, starting with Christian Sauter on the defensive line. Kelekolio Linton had a strong season at safety last season and will help to lead a young defense. In all, Pearland returns just eight starters, but like I mentioned from the outset, this is a program with championship pedigree. Pearland is better built to replace talent than most teams.
I have Strake Jesuit grabbing the final playoff spot after an impressive run last season.
The Crusaders will return a healthy amount of starters with 12 total, but will need to replace a talented quarterback just like the Pearland schools. Like Pearland, the Crusaders have a solid duo at running back in Alex May and Joel Crawford, while Robert Smith returns at wide receiver to help ease the quarterback transition.
Strake Jesuit will employ one of the best front sevens in the district on defense. Really, they’ve got playmakers at all three levels – Jacob Psyk on the line, Jayce Bordelon at linebacker and Lance Saizan, who will lead a young secondary.
Again, I think the teams from two-to-four in this district could wind up in any order and it wouldn’t shock me. Jesuit has put together back-to-back 10-win seasons, and I expect a similar level of success this year. Although I predicted a fourth-place finish, don’t pencil that in.
Just like two through four, deciding spots five and six was a toss-up between two teams for me.
I decided to go with Hastings at five due to 15 returning starters. Like the previous three schools I mentioned, Hastings will have to replace a quarterback, but there is plenty of other talent.
The offense will have the most questions, but Darrion Houston’s return at running back is a big key for the Bears. The offensive line is the strength of the team, so expect Houston to have a big year. The defense returns seven starters, and that unit will be led by Winfred Donahue and Niron Jackson in the secondary – that will be important in a district with no shortage of offensive weapons.
I don’t see a playoff appearance in the cards for Hastings because this district is so deep, but they should definitely keep things interesting.
Back-to-back 3-7 seasons is nothing to write home about, but that isn’t the full story for Taylor.
The Lions easily could’ve gone 5-5 after two close district losses, and they didn’t help themselves by scheduling two of the toughest teams in the Houston area in non-district play last season. They’ll also benefit from a new head coach and a returning quarterback.
Esteban Torres is back to pilot the offense at quarterback and pilot the football through the goal posts in his spot at kicker. A good offensive line will protect Torres and returning running back Jourdan Concepcion. The Lions also return Tyler King at wide out.
With six starters returning on each side of the ball, the defense has some good returning talent as well. Everett Haven and Maize Washington will lead a dominant front seven. Expect the showdown with Hastings to be another good one – the final score was 24-23 in favor of Taylor in 2019 – and it will likely determine who finishes fifth and who finishes sixth.
Elsik kicks off what I see as the third tier in this district after a 2-8 campaign in 2019.
The Rams will have a benefit that most won’t in this district in a returning quarterback with starter experience. David Haley saw time as a freshman last season and will presumably take the reigns for the next three years. Next to him in the backfield is Adryan Brown, who had a strong 2019 season cut short by injury.
Chris Garrett is just a sophomore, but excelled as a freshman on the defensive line last season and he figures to lead a young unit. Elsik has some decent talent, but this is a deep district and I think it will be tough for the Rams to fight out of the bottom tier.
I’ve got Alvin bringing up the rear after the Jackets suffered a winless campaign last season.
Fortunately, Alvin has plenty of options at quarterback. Gavin Guthrie held down that spot last season, but he’s also a pretty good linebacker. Jayden Garcia is a promising sophomore prospect at the position, and Alvin could benefit by starting him and allowing Guthrie to play linebacker full-time.
If Garcia steps in at quarterback, his top targets will be Christian Touch and Armando Rivera. That should give the Yellowjackets an improved offense after that unit was shut out in seven games last season.
On defense, Larry Vojacek will lead the line while Guthrie leads the linebackers. Bo Olszewski is the best player in the secondary. The playoffs are likely out of reach for Alvin, but the goal should be to try and string together a few wins to create momentum for the future.
Team and Player to Watch
Because I think the playoff race will be so tight, my team-to-watch is the Pearland Oilers.
I’ve said it plenty of times, Pearland has championship pedigree. However, the Oilers have bowed out of the playoffs early with a round one loss to Dickinson in each of the last two seasons. Because Shadow Creek will be in Division II, Pearland can lock up the Division I one-seed with a second place district finish.
That’s important to avoid a third consecutive first round date with Dickinson. I think the games that will decide who finishes where in this district will be the round robin between Pearland, Dawson and Strake Jesuit. If one can beat the other two, that team will be in prime position for a deep playoff run. That’s why I’m keeping my eye on Pearland. I think Dawson was the safe pick for No.2, but Pearland has the highest ceiling of the three in my opinion.
The quarterback is the most important position in the game; it’s tough to go far without a good one. Good news for Shadow Creek; they’ve got one of the best in the state.
Kyron Drones is my player-to-watch for 23-6A because it’s pretty much impossible to pick anyone else considering Drones’ numbers. The future Baylor Bear put up nearly 3,500 yards and a whopping 46 touchdown passes to go with another 18 scores on the ground. He’s the leader of a squad that has gained immense national respect – Shadow Creek was scheduled to play national powerhouse St. Joseph’s Prep (PA) on ESPN to kick off the season before that game had to be cancelled, for obvious reasons.
Drones elevates Shadow Creek from a good third-round-out team to a state championship caliber team in my opinion. It would be a disservice to act like plenty of other guys on that squad (including several on defense) don’t make the Sharks great, but Drones is the driver of the bus. For that reason, the Shadow Creek gunslinger is my 23-6A player-to-watch.
I'm excited to see if the Sharks can hoist another one of these in
December uh, I mean January.