This week we’re discussing 9-5A Division I before we wrap up our 5A coverage next week with a loaded district. But for now, the spotlight is on a trio of Baytown ISD schools; an ever-dangerous Friendswood squad; along with La Porte and Galveston Ball. There should be no shortage of optimism in this district, as it has just two teams that made the playoffs in 2019.
Baytown Goose Creek Memorial
One of the teams bound to be optimistic in 2020 is Goose Creek Memorial. While a 3-7 season seems like nothing to write home about, the Patriots lost three of those games by just one possession. Mix in a healthy amount of returning talent, and it’s easy to see GCM’s path to the playoffs.
There’s a hole to fill at quarterback, and the success of the Patriots could depend on who steps up to fill that role (sounds like another Patriots we all know, huh?) but Brice Lee returns as the lead back and will likely lead the offense.
If Goose Creek Memorial can lean on the experience of returning starters and figure out how to win close games, I fully expect to see the Patriots in the playoffs this season.
Speaking of teams that should be in the thick of the playoff hunt, look no further than Baytown Lee.
The Ganders played in a tough district in 5A Division II last year, but managed to go 5-5 with three non-district wins. Depending on how Lee replaces a few key starters, they figure to be right at the back end of the district playoff race. As for returning talent, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is some of quarterback Ijena Wooley’s top weapons are back in two-way starters Ja’Kenan Davis and Trudell Berry. The bad news is, Wooley himself is off to college.
If Lee can replace Wooley at quarterback, they could be as good as any team in the district, not named Friendswood or Port Arthur Memorial.
Sterling’s move down from 6A means the three Baytown schools will all be playing in the same district after all being in separate districts a season ago. Like Lee, the Rangers played in a far tougher district last season. Unlike Lee, Sterling’s district was among the toughest in the state with the likes of North Shore and Beaumont West Brook.
Fortunately, they’ll have returning experience at a position their Baytown counterparts do not, and it happens to be the most important position on the field. Quarterback Ryan DeLuna returns for his senior season after getting varsity reps in each of the last two seasons.
Because Sterling went 1-9 a season ago, I can’t see the Rangers challenging for a playoff spot quite yet. However, I think the returning talent could have them in the mix for three or four wins… if that’s able to happen, Sterling could be ready to compete for a playoff spot come 2021.
To La Porte’s detriment, one of my favorite names in Texas High School football is gone. The Bulldogs will sorely miss quarterback River Thompson next season, but that’s all I have in the way of bad news for the Bulldogs.
Like Sterling, they’ll drop down from the potent 21-6A and won’t have to collect their annual loss to North Shore and West Brook, teams that compete at a state championship level. La Porte also returns running back Brandon Collins, who will carry the offensive load while the incoming quarterback grows into his role.
Similar to Lee, I expect La Porte to benefit from an easier district from their previous digs, and be in the back end of the 9-5A DII playoff race.
Here folks, is your district champion. With loads of returning talent from a young squad that won nine games in one of 5A’s toughest districts a season ago, there’s no reason to think Friendswood won’t coast to a district title in 2020.
Luke Grden is back at quarterback after excelling at the spot for the last two seasons. His backfield-mate Noah Palitz returns as well, and the Mustangs return several players from a talented defense as well.
They’ll have to replace some of Grden’s favorite targets, but there’s no reason to think Friendswood won’t run away with the district title and make a deep playoff run.
For the second season in a row, Ball finished with a record of 3-7. Unfortunately for Ball, all three wins came in non-district play. Their main goal in 2020 will be to tally a win against a district opponent.
Three wins indicates there is something to build on. That will be aided by the return of Graham Ledbetter at quarterback and some of his favorite weapons in Byron Sweeney and Robert Ellis. The returning talent, especially on offense, could be enough to get Ball into the back end of the playoff race. However, I believe they may still be a season away from playoffs.
My prediction for Ball is a fifth or sixth place finish in the district with two district wins, but watch out for the Ball offense… they may make things interesting at the back end of this district.
Team and Player to Watch
My team-to-watch is one I think will make some noise in the 9-5A DII playoff race; one I could see climb up as far as No. 2 in the district with a strong season. My team-to-watch is…
… the La Porte Bulldogs.
I think La Porte has enough coming back that if they can figure out the quarterback spot, they could have a high-powered offense. There really isn’t going to be a way around Friendswood at that top spot, but I believe La Porte has the means to make a special season.
My player-to-watch may come as a bit of a surprise. If anyone is to challenge Friendswood for a district title, shutting down Grden will be mission No. 1.
If running back Noah Palitz can get his, I think Friendswood will be unstoppable. That makes Palitz my player to watch in 9-5A DII. I’m interested to see what kind of season the versatile back has as teams try to choose which player to slow down.