Cover Photo via @ambition_kolby on Twitter.
Last up for our 5A districts is one of the largest and potentially most talented in the state. It’ll be tough for any other district in the state regardless of classification to match the talent that 10-5A Division I could put in the playoffs, making it my top 5A district to watch in the Houston area.
Just two-and-a-half years ago, the Manvel Mavericks played in one of the most exciting games in Texas High School football history, coming up four points short of a state title in December 2017. Two seasons later and the Mavs are staring down the barrel of what’s kept them from making it back to state: too much graduating talent.
Quarterback Tucker Yarborough is gone as is dominant running back Donovan Eaglin, who ran for an absurd amount of yards in last years state playoffs and earned a late offer from Michigan State for his efforts.
Gone too is Yarborough’s top target, Jalen Paxton. The Mavs will have to replace virtually all of their offensive talent, which is a tall task to fill.
However, Manvel is no stranger to attrition. Yarborough and Eaglin were first year starters in 2019 and it remains to be seen who will fill their shoes. I have confidence that whomever those players may be, they’ll be apt replacements. Manvel is one of the best in the area at replacing graduating talent, and it will be interesting to see who steps up in 2020.
As we know, Fort Bend Marshall and Alvin Shadow Creek represented Houston at the state championships at the 5A level each of the last two seasons. Just as Manvel couldn’t get past Marshall; Foster failed to make it past Shadow Creek.
Fortunately, the Sharks are up to 6A and we’ll have a chance to see what Foster can do without a school who has never not played for a state title standing in its way.
It won’t be easy to replace Ryan Stubblefield, who is off to play at East Carolina University, at quarterback, but they return plenty of talent.
Oklahoma commit Cody Jackson is back at wide receiver and the offensive line will be anchored by recent Texas A&M commit Reuben Fatheree.
If they can find a replacement for Stubblefield, expect Foster to be firmly in the race for a district title.
It was an uncharacteristic year for the Angleton Wildcats as they failed to make the playoffs in a tough district.
They’re typically a mainstay in the playoffs, so I fully expect the Wildcats to come out with a vengeance in 2020 to get back in that playoff picture. While Angleton graduates its fair share of talent, some of its most important players are back.
Quarterback Jordan Pickett got some looks early last season, and he’ll slot in as the starter after the departure of Justus Mayon. Most importantly, running back J.T. Anderson returns to lead Angleton’s run-heavy attack.
The district got a little easier by virtue of Shadow Creek moving up to 6A, but the addition of Manvel makes things nearly as tough. Angleton should be at the bottom end of the playoff picture, and I’m excited to see how the race for the final two playoff spots shakes out.
One of the teams that snuck into the back end of the playoffs last season that kept Angleton out was the Hightower Hurricanes.
The impressive part about Hightower’s playoff appearance is that it came in coach Joseph Sam’s first year at the helm. Now with a year of experience and leadership under Sam, Hightower could be even better and they return talent in all the right places as well.
Quarterback JaKolby Longino is back and he’ll have no shortage of great offensive weapons. The Hurricanes will miss Kobie Campbell at wide receiver, but I think Kelton Ross and Nico Lawrence should step up well in his place.
I believe these four teams are the ones most likely to make the playoffs, but there are a few teams below them that are just an upset away from sneaking into the playoffs.
That starts with Katy Paetow. They move up from 5A Division II after a successful 2019 season that saw the Panthers go 8-3 and make their first-ever playoff appearance.
Katy ISD is known to be a football factory for talent and I believe Paetow could build itself into a powerhouse program over time. That might not start in 2020 however, as the Panthers lose several key players from its record-setting 2019 squad.
Running back Major Payne (get your laughs in, I know I did) carried the offense last season in Paetow’s run-first attack. It’s hard to project what the offense will look like in 2020, but the defense is what could have the Panthers pushing for a playoff birth.
They’ll return plenty of talent on defense, and that starts with Carl Simon in the secondary and Andrew Rutherford on the defensive line. If Paetow can find some explosiveness on offense (particularly at running back) expect them to be right there with Angleton competing for that final playoff spot.
Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Milby make a run at the playoffs.
The Buffs built on a 2-8 season in 2018 by doubling their win total to four last season. The key to continue building on that success is already in place: Lorenzo Thompson is back at quarterback after two great seasons as the starter.
Filling in talent around Thompson will be key, but don’t be surprised if he carries Milby farther than anyone expects. They’ll need to win all the games they’re supposed to win, and they’ll need to beat Paetow and Kempner to even have a shot… but I think there’s an outside chance it can happen.
The final team I could see challenging for a playoff spot is Fort Bend Kempner.
Yet another run-heavy team, the Cougars employed a three-headed attack on the ground last season. Two of those top three rushers are gone, but Joseph Trim should help transition new backs to the offensive equation and figures to be highly productive himself.
Kempner returns a few key defenders as well, and could be a few key pieces away from contending for a playoff spot.
This is essentially the start of what I see as the third and final tier of this larger nine-team district. Terry went 2-8 for the second consecutive season in 2019 and looks to be still a year away from playoff contention.
A district with one more team than normal that also happens to be top heavy with elite talent doesn’t help the Rangers case either.
The good news is Michael Odom returns after a solid sophomore season. The Rangers will need his services to have success and they’ll be happy to have him for another two seasons. The defense has a fair amount of question marks, but I think Odom could carry Terry to three or four wins. If they can hit that mark, look for the Rangers to build on that in 2021.
Our final team to discuss in the district is the Wisdom Generals.
There’s a lot of work and a lot of rebuilding to do after an 0-10 season that saw the Generals fail to score a touchdown. The good news is Terelle Porter is back at wide receiver; now Wisdom needs to find someone to get him the ball.
The goal here will be to win one or two games, which I think can absolutely happen. Then next season, win a few more. It wasn't all that long ago that Houston Madison, a program that hasn’t been a winning one in a while, employed a future CFB champion and NFL first round draft pick at quarterback. My point? You never know when a game-changing player might pop up at a school where you least expect to see it.
Wisdom has plenty of work to do, and that won’t happen overnight. But look for small improvements and they could be in contention before anyone expects it.
Team and Player to Watch
Our final order of business, as usual, is team-and-player-to-watch.
First up is my team-to-watch, the Angleton Wildcats.
I picked Angleton because I believe this district has four fairly clean-cut playoff teams. In order, I think that looks like foster, Manvel, Hightower and Angleton, with Hightower and Manvel potentially flip-flopping.
I think Angleton slots in as the fourth team. However, I highlighted Paetow, Milby and Kempner as teams who could push Angleton out of that final playoff spot. I’m intrigued to see how close the race will be for that final spot and how close the games will be between those three and Angleton.
Will any team come close to threatening for a playoff spot or will Angleton be able to coast in? That’s the question I’m excited to find out the answer to.
My player-to-watch is Hightower quarterback JaKolby Longino.
As I said just above, I think Manvel and Hightower could go either way for the two and three seeds, and I think Hightower could even push for district title. If they can do that, I think Longino is the guy to get them there, and he is the player I’m most excited to see in this district.