District 11-5A Division II will look a lot different in 2020 than it did in 2019. Last season, Manvel won the district and runner-up Marshall made it to a second-straight state title appearance after beating Manvel in the Region III finals. This year, Manvel moves up to 5A Division I and Marshall graduates all of its top talent. While the Buffs still figure to be at the top of the district, everything after that is up for grabs.
As mentioned, Marshall is losing almost all of its production heading into 2020. They graduate quarterback Malik Hornsby (Arkansas), all-purpose back Devon Achane (Texas A&M) and top defensive back Avery Helm (Florida). The Buffs will also lose most of Hornsby’s targets at receiver, and their top two sack leaders from a year ago.
The other thing about Hornsby graduating is that the Buffs had another senior quarterback on the roster, who took the garbage time snaps in blowouts. This means we know nothing about who could be filling his spot at quarterback.
The good news for Marshall is Jy’Adrian Wortham is returning at running back. He was the second-leading rusher behind Achane for Marshall as a freshman last season, and he’ll run behind four senior offensive linemen as the lead back in his sophomore campaign.
If the Buffs can retool on defense, they might have enough weapons on offense to make another deep playoff run. Coach James Williams is one of the best in the area, so I expect Marshall to rebound nicely despite losing more talent than just about anyone else.
If Marshall can’t retool after losing so much talent, Willowridge is primed to take the district title. Ramon Chinyoung takes over as the newest head coach at WHS, and he’ll look to build on an already explosive offense.
The Eagles return quarterback Rufus Scott after he led on offense that scored at least 40 points in eight of 11 games. His top two targets from last year, Lidarian Carter and Marquise Garrett, are gone but Willowridge does return some young skill talent that will fill the gaps.
If that young production can fill the shoes of Carter and Garrett, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Scott and Willowridge challenges Marshall for a district title. Either way, look for the Eagles to have a dominant regular season and potentially make some noise in the playoffs, especially with coach Chinyoung now at the helm.
Galena Park Yellowjackets
The Yellowjackets had a better-than-expected season in the first year under coach Spiro Amarantos. While 4-6 isn’t a record that catches the eye, there was a clear adjustment period during Amarantos’ first few games: Galena Park started just 1-5 before before winning three of its last four games.
Now in a district with little top-end talent, expect Galena Park to carry the momentum from a strong finish to 2019 into 2020. I see the Yellowjackets filling one of the two remaining playoff spots in 11-5A Division II.
Houston ISD Schools
District 11-5A Division II is one of the largest in the state with nine teams. The remaining six all play in Houston ISD, and I can see three of those teams competing with Galena Park for one of the two remaining playoff spots. We’ll start with the three schools I can see competing for a playoff spot.
Austin went 2-8 a year ago, but that was in 5A Division I. Now by moving down a division to an easier district, Austin is primed to improve in 2020. They’ll have to break in a new quarterback, but the coaching staff is excited about the potential ability of junior quarterback Kevin Destin. If he can live up to the hype, Austin may steal a playoff spot.
Next up is Northside. They expected to improve on a 2018 playoff appearance with plenty of returning talent, but the Panthers fell out of the playoffs after a 4-6 season in 2019. The good news is quarterback Ronald Holmes is back for his third season as a starter. The Panthers have a proven player with ample experience at the most important position on the field in a weaker district. They’ll have work to do and may have to pull off an upset, but it isn’t hard to see Northside back in the playoffs in 2020.
My final team to watch for the 11-5A DII playoff race is a team that made the playoffs last season in Sterling. The Raiders impressed in 2019, with a 5-6 record. While that doesn’t seem too impressive, Sterling lost to two of the best teams in the state in Marshall and Manvel. Throw in narrow losses to Splendora and Willowridge, and it’s easy to see how they could compete with the big dogs in the district in 2020. They’ll return Anthony Brown at quarterback, and I see them hanging around in the conversation for the second or third seed in the district.
The final three teams in the district had some struggles in 2019. Waltrip won three district games, but narrowly missed the playoffs. Unfortunately, quarterback Jonah Brooks and wide receiver Orvis Fowler graduate, and it will be tough to replace them. It’s not impossible for Waltrip to retool and make a playoff run, but it doesn’t seem likely.
As for Madison, the Marlins lost eight of 10 games by double digits in 2019. They’ll have a little returning talent, but the Marlins will focus on trying to win three or four games to build on heading into 2021. Then we have Sharpstown: The Apollos went 0-10 last season and lost every game by double digits. The good news is they’re now in an easier district, and will have a few chances to win some games. Similar to Madison, Sharpstown will look to get a few wins under its belt to build on heading into 2021. If they can string a few wins together, the momentum will be there down the road.
Player and Team to Watch
District 11-5A DII is an interesting one: It has one of the state’s most successful programs over the last few years in Fort Bend Marshall. Behind that is plenty of unknowns, including Marshall themselves with the massive loss of talent from last season.
However, I think Marshall is a lock for playoffs, and likely for for the district title. Beyond that, it’s tough to know. I feel confident Willowridge will slide into the second spot, making them my team to watch.
Sterling could challenge Willowridge for the presumptive spot behind Marshall, but Willowridge is the only team I see with a high enough ceiling to challenge Marshall for the district title. If things are going to get mixed up in this district, I think Willowridge will be at the forefront of it.
My player to watch is two-fold, and I’ll start with with Northside quarterback Ronald Holmes. With his return, Northside could make some noise in the district standings while having the chance to make noise in the playoffs as well.
My other player to watch is Marshall running back Jy’Adrian Wortham. He has enormous shoes to fill after Devon Achane just got done torching the state for years while leading the Buffs to two state title appearances. If Marshall is going to replicate any of its past success, the responsibility will fall on Wortham’s shoulders because of the currently unknown quarterback situation.