Cover Photo via @DogFootball on Twitter.
Week six of our Under The Microscope series takes a look at 8-5A Division I, the first of three districts we’ll look at for this classification. In my opinion, 8-5A DI is perhaps the most intriguing of the 5A districts we’ll look at.
While 10-5A DI is loaded with the kind of top-end talent that 8-5A DI lacks, today’s district is one of the most evenly matched in the area that we’ll see. There is no clear front runner in my opinion, and there is no shortage of teams who could compete for a playoff berth.
If there is going to be a front-runner in this district, it will likely be the Magnolia Bulldogs.
They’ll return offensive lineman Matthew Wykoff, who is a top-400 player in his class and committed to nearby Texas A&M. He’ll be protecting Travis Moore at quarterback as he has for the last two seasons.
That continuity at the most important position on the field along with a talented and experienced offensive line should have Magnolia back in the district title hunt after an 8-4 season in 2019. A more favorable district has the Bulldogs primed for a potentially deep playoff run as well. Three of their four losses a season ago came to powerhouse programs such as Highland Park and Shadow Creek. Behind Wykoff and Moore, look for Magnolia to be back on top of its district once again.
Just like their crosstown rivals, Magnolia West broke in a new head coach last season, but Blake Joseph didn’t quite have the same success as his counterpart at Magnolia.
However, that’s not to say Mag West didn’t have a good season. The Mustangs made the playoffs, bowing out to DFW’s McKinney North in the first round. But a 5-6 season with a playoff appearance in the first year of a new head coach shows some promise – and like Magnolia, they’ll benefit from returning talent.
The bad news is – unlike Magnolia – they won’t return a starter at the quarterback spot. Tristan Brady is off to Sam Houston State after a productive career, but the good news is the staff is excited about junior Brock Dalton taking the reigns. While it may take him a few games to adjust to the varsity level, Magnolia West could absolutely close the season strong and look to a playoff game or two.
Over in New Caney, the Eagles had a better season than most expected.
Unfortunately, the reward for a 10-0 regular season was a first round date with explosive Richmond Foster, who would go on to lose to eventual state champion and district-mate Shadow Creek in round four.
While the most important piece of that 10-0 New Caney squad from last season is gone (that would be quarterback Zion Childress,) the Eagles will return plenty of talent. Wide receiver Isaiah Akin, two-way star Billy Williams and linebacker Derrick Harris Jr. are all back after great seasons in 2019.
If New Caney can find a solid replacement for Childress at quarterback, they could be right there with Magnolia in the hunt for a district title.
Perhaps the ironic thing about New Caney’s 10-0 season with a first-round playoff exit is how Porter’s season ended.
The Spartans played for a district title with a matchup against New Caney on the final day of the regular season. While the game wasn’t close, Porter wound up drawing Hightower in the first round, and they were able to upset the Hurricanes before bowing out in round two.
Like New Caney, the Porter Spartans will have to fill a hole at quarterback in 2020 after the graduation of Jack Reilly. They’ll have to replace a good amount of talent elsewhere too if they want to be in the conversation for a district title again.
After consecutive 0-10 seasons, Cleveland will try its luck moving up to 5A Division I. The Indians might not be ready to challenge for a playoff spot in 2020, but they’ll return some meaningful talent that could have them picking up a few wins.
Stephen Hughey and Cary Wood are back on the offensive side of the ball, which will be a great help. Cleveland’s goal in 2020 should be to try and win two or three games. If they can do that, the Indians will be primed to build on a little success next season to bring into a potential playoff bid in 2021.
Caney Creek went 2-8 each of the last two seasons, but help should be on the way.
The Cougars graduate a lot of talent, and that would be a bad thing in most other situations… and it still might be. However, coach Ned Barrier could be an ace-up-the-sleeve for Caney Creek.
Barrier is entering his second season as coach at Caney Creek after three years at 2A Wallis Brazos, a program that hadn’t made the playoffs in nearly a decade prior to his arrival. They made the playoffs all three years that Barrier was there, and he’s looking for similar success at Caney Creek.
The Cougars may not be ready for a playoff run, but that doesn’t mean Barrier won’t be able to help turn things around as he enters his second season in the program.
One of Caney Creek’s two wins from a year ago came against Waller, who went 0-9 last season. However, that record isn’t quite indicative of the year they had.
The Bulldogs were rarely blown out and lost several games by just a few points. Couple that with the fact that Gene Johnson was in his first season as coach at the school – like half his peers in the district – and it’s easy to see how Waller could turn some of those losses to wins.
As Johnson enters his second year at the helm, the Bulldogs could be primed to win three or four games, if they can figure out how to close out the kinds of close games they lost a year ago. They’ll need to figure out who is stepping up on offense, but the return of Kase McLean, Jared Hicks and Jamari Thompson on defense should keep Waller competitive in many of its games.
Team and Player to Watch
My team-to-watch is going to be New Caney. They were district champs a season ago, and it might come down to their matchup with Magnolia for the district title. Still, teams like Porter and Magnolia West are worthy competitors and could surprise many people similar to how Porter did last season.
The reason I picked New Caney is because I’m interested to see how the Eagles replace Zion Childress. With Magnolia returning Travis Moore at quarterback, they might have the advantage. While New Caney returns more overall talent in my opinion, I think returning a two-year starter at quarterback gives Magnolia the leg-up on the district title race.
Who New Caney trots out to take the first snap of 2020 and how successful that young man can be in his role will be the storyline of the season for 8-5A DI.
As might be obvious, my player-to-watch for the district is Magnolia signal-caller Travis Moore. In my opinion, he holds the keys to the district title race. Magnolia brings back plenty of talent, and has a playoff win from a year ago to build on. Moore is the key to all of that, and Magnolia will put the its district title hopes in his hands.