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06/09/20

Under The Microscope: Week 9

Cover Photo from The Houston Chronicle.

We move into our final stage this week as we kick off our 6A coverage with district 13 – one that looks starkly different from last season in more ways than one. We’ll wrap up our Houston-area previews in nine weeks as we preview 13-6A all the way through 24-6A.

A season ago – District 13-6A didn’t belong to the Houston area. Now, it’s essentially half of the former 15-6A, one of my favorite districts to watch last season. The new 13-6A is comprised of the five Conroe ISD schools and Willis with no outsiders, making it the only six-team district in class 6A. Let’s dive in!

Conroe

The Conroe Tigers wound up in perhaps the most undesirable of positions at the end of last season. In a district loaded with competitive teams – and being one of the few nine-team districts at that – Conroe finished with a respectable district record of 4-4. That break-even wasn’t enough to put them in the top four to secure a playoff spot, with a Klein Cain win on the last day of the regular season pushing the Tigers out.

Fast forward to 2020 and the good news is Klein ISD joins the Tomball schools to create their own district and the Conroe ISD schools. As I mentioned, the best odds to make the playoffs are in this district with four spots for six teams – literally nobody else has that.

The bad news is the loss of a dynamic offensive duo that really drove the offense last season. Christian Pack and his top target at wide receiver in Michael Phoenix are gone, and replacing that production won’t be easy. I’ll let their teammate speak to that.

However, the cupboard isn’t completely barren. The Tigers return plenty of talent on the defensive front seven, including Layne O’Dell and Tyler Trantham at linebacker as well as defensive lineman Kamari Weatherspoon. O’Dell was first-team all-district a season ago while Weatherspoon excelled on the turf and the hardwood.

If Conroe can replace even a little of what Pack and Phoenix brought to the table, expect the Tigers to be in the mix for a district title. The defense certainly figures to be strong and it’s hard to see a scenario where Conroe misses out on the playoffs.

The Woodlands

Similar to Conroe, the burden of replacing dynamic offensive talent will fall heavily on The Woodlands.

Running back Bryeton Gilford was the driver of the offense last season; he’s gone in addition to quarterback Payton Janecek.

However, Cody Howard got some looks at the quarterback spot early in the season and figures to slide in to Janecek’s spot nicely with a little varsity experience under his belt.

If Howard has a smooth transition to the starting spot at quarterback, I think The Woodlands would have to be the favorite for a district title. They return Theodore Knox at wide receiver, one of the fastest players in the area. A talent like his will make life much easier for Howard or whoever it is that assumes the starting role at signal caller.

Oak Ridge

Next up is the team I believe has the most intrigue heading into this season in 13-6A: The Oak Ridge War Eagles.

A 3-7 season doesn’t seem all that impressive and it doesn’t necessarily scream “future success” either. But hear me out… I think Oak Ridge could be really good this season, and here’s why.

The War Eagles return loads of talent on both sides of the ball. It starts on offense with do-everything running back Alton McCaskill, who’s receiving heavy NCAA Power-5 interest. There are some spots to fill in around him, but that’s a great start for the offense.

On defense, Oak Ridge returns a trio of solid linebackers including KC Ossai, another Power-5 recruit who will play a large part in the team’s success in 2020.

The key to success is how the quarterback spot is filled. Nick Osborne will be in the running and has been working out with McCaskill this offseason. While I believe The Woodlands to be the favorite to win the district, don’t think a team like Oak Ridge or Conroe can’t do it. All it takes is an upset and things to break the right way and one of those two could be claiming the district title come November.

College Park

While The Woodlands, Oak Ridge and Conroe make up a clear top three in my mind, I think College Park rounds out the playoff picture nicely in 13-6A – making it a district that’ll be a tough out in the playoffs, but will go up against another tough district in 14-6A… we’ll talk about that more next week though.

Despite a winning record of 11-9 in the last two seasons, College Park failed to make the playoffs in its last district pairing. Now with just six teams, a winning record could easily yield a playoff appearance.

Holden Rook is back at wide receiver and will be a dynamic weapon for whoever steps in at quarterback. College Park has some questions to answer in terms of replacing talent, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the Cavaliers continue their winning ways. The four teams I’ve discussed so far make up the 13-6A playoff picture in my mind.

Willis

If either of the two remaining teams is to challenge College Park for the fourth spot in the playoffs, I think it’ll be Willis.

They’ll have to adjust to 6A after moving up from 5A Division I, but a smaller district that yields more chances at non-district tune-ups should provide that. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty talented district at the top.

Like Oak Ridge – Willis returns plenty of talent from a 3-7 team last season. Quarterback Steele Bardwell is back and so are his top weapons in backfield-mate Johnny McHenry and wide receiver Jacoby McCoy. Those three led a Willis offense that scored in double digits in every game last season.

If Willis can figure out the defensive side of the ball, they could very well slide into the fourth playoff spot. College Park is still my pick to hold that spot, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Willis make a run at it.

Grand Oaks

For the first time, Grand Oaks will be placed in a district to play varsity football.

The school opened in 2018, and the football team scheduled a few non-district games the last two seasons. By virtue of being a brand new school, Grand Oaks will benefit from returning every single player on the roster from last season… no other team in the state can say that.

The flip side of that is Grand Oaks has never played a real varsity season. There is so much unknown that I have no idea what to expect from the Grizzlies. With a district loaded with talent at the top, I doubt Grand Oaks has much of a case for playoffs.

However, I’m intrigued to see how they do in what is really year one. Not every new team can be like Shadow Creek and play for a state championship in each of the first two years of varsity ball, and Grand Oaks will likely fall very short of that. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make some noise, and I’m interested to see what happens and who steps up as the first senior class in school history looks to make its mark.

Team and Player to Watch

My team to watch for 13-6A is the same team I wrote about having the most intrigue, and in a way, the most to prove: Oak Ridge.

The Eagles return loads of talent on defense. They return one of the best running backs in the state (he’s ranked as the sixth-best running back in Texas by 247sports) and the likely starter at quarterback is already developing chemistry with that running back off the field.

For Oak Ridge, I think the question is if not now, then when? I think the game against Conroe could decide who ends up as the two and three seed in the district, and The Woodlands could be an upset away from Oak Ridge taking home district champion honors.

My player-to-watch is the man who I think keeps The Woodlands locked in that top spot – speedy wideout Theodore Knox.

Like McCaskill, Knox is ranked as the sixth-best player in the state at his position and has loads of interest from the nation’s top schools. With a new – albeit capable – quarterback stepping in, Knox could make all the difference in making the transition of the starting quarterback spot go smoothly.

Let this serve as my official prediction – The Woodlands wins 13-6A and Theodore Knox takes home offensive MVP honors.