Photo via John Glaser, TexasHSFootball.com

High school football is about the most popular attraction in small town Texas, but especially out west. Here’s some of the big matchups to look out for in the season opener:

San Angelo Grape Creek vs. Alpine (9/1) Eagle Stadium

Grape Creek starts 2017 with a mostly new offensive line (four out of the five starters from last season graduated), and a new coach, but the return of all skill players bodes well for the Eagles. Back is QB Austin Barron (1,115 yards rushing, 2,106 yards passing, 32 total TDs), RB Austin Ortegon (1,251 yards rushing, 18 TDs) and a pair of receivers with WR/LB Seth Mitchell (543 yards receiving, 6 TDs) and WR/DB Braden Preston (507 yards receiving, 5 TDs). Preston (31 tackles, 2 INTs) joins DB Jesse Jio (46 tackles, 1 INT) and DL Nino Huerta (4 sacks) to lead the defense.

Alpine returns 14 total starters from last season’s playoff qualifiers, but will need a new quarterback. Whoever that may be will have plenty of options however, as a stable of skill players return for the Bucks including a trio of receivers with Skyler Short (57 catches, 511 yards receiving, 3 TDs), Derek Rojo (362 yards receiving, 3 TDs) and Aaron Fellows (479 yards receiving, 3 TDs), who played well as a freshman. The defense will be led by WR/LB Tony Terraza (67 tackles, 1 INT) and RB/DE Victor Carrasco (28 tackles, 4 sacks).

Last Result: San Angelo Grape Creek 50, Alpine 36 (2016)

Sonora vs. Ozona (9/1) Bronco Stadium

Sonora engineered a deep playoff run in 2016, and with the return of nine total starters could at the very least qualify for the postseason once again. Back on offense for the Broncos is QB/DB Kaden Cordell (3,714 yards passing, 434 yards rushing, 59 total TDs) and RB Jarrett Jackson (1,248 yards rushing, 854 yards receiving, 35 total TDs), one of the more potent backfield duos in the region. A host of players are back on defense, including WR/DB Walker T. Sine (121 tackles, 2 INTs), CB Wesley Dutton (43 tackles, 1 INT) and DL Mark Chavez (30 tackles, 1 sack).

Ozona claimed the 3-2A DI title last season; returning for the Lions in the hopes of a repeat are 10 total starters, including reigning district MVP RB Kobe Rodriquez (1,360 yards rushing, 22 TDs). Also returning are OL Marc Ybarra and TE/DE Jacob Schroeder, both first team all-district a season ago.

Last Result: Sonora 46, Ozona 6 (2016)

Wall vs. Monahans (9/1) Hawk Stadium

Wall was one win away from appearing in their first state title game since 2013, but the Hawks will once again be primed for another deep playoff run as 15 total starters return, including nine on defense. Back on offense for the Hawks includes a trio of skilled rushers with RB Tymber Carr (700 yards rushing, 310 yards receiving, 16 total TDs), RB Sutton Braden (839 yards rushing, 12 TDs) and RB Drake Holifield (510 yards rushing). Wall is especially stacked defensively, as three players who recorded 100-plus tackles return: LB Lucas Garcia (145 tackles, 2 sacks), LB Dryden Virden (114 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INTs) and DE Steve Watts (115 tackles, 4 sacks).

Monahans claimed a district title and won a playoff game last season, and returns enough talent to merit a potential repeat. Back for the Loboes on offense is QB Dante Griner (1,011 yards passing, 14 TDs), RB/LB Tylan McCalister (1,751 yards rushing, 117 yards receiving, 28 total TDs) and WR/DB David Birdwell (15 catches, 301 yards receiving). Birdwell (29 tackles, 2 INTs) joins DB Michael Smith (53 tackles, 4 INTs) and DT Alec Gonzales (30 tackles, 5 sacks) on defense.

Last Result: Monahans 46, Wall 20 (2016)

Anson vs. Hamlin (9/1) Tiger Stadium

Anson played one of their best seasons in school history in 2016, playing to a 3-1 district record and winning three playoff games. The Tigers return 12 total starters in the hopes of another postseason berth. Back on offense is WR/LB Chris Jones (690 yards receiving, 7 TDs), who is also a threat on defense (154 tackles, 9 sacks); he’ll join LB Jason Soliz (89 tackles, 6 INTs) and DE Brandon Padilla (101 tackles, 6 sacks) on that unit.

Hamlin won a district title and a pair of playoff games in dominant fashion in 2016, the Pied Pipers are ready for more with the return of 12 total starters. Back on offense is RB Kyler Gann (1,031 yards rushing, 13 TDs), WR Nathaniel Villanueva (316 yards receiving, 6 TDs), and QB Ayron Wagner (1,240 total yards, 18 TDs), who missed the latter half of 2016 with injury.

Last Result: Anson 46, Hamlin 16 (2016)

Rankin vs. Balmorhea (9/1) Red Devil Stadium

Rankin struggled with injury and inexperience last season, but the experience gained by the underclassmen as well as the healthy returns of starters bodes well for the Red Devils. Four starters return on both sides of the ball, but newcomers to Rankin might be able to add a boost: Jeff Shelton takes the reins after three seasons in Spur, and he brings his son, dynamic do-it-all athlete Kamren Shelton.

Balmorhea was young yet very formidable last season, reaching the state championship game last season. Balmorhea should be even more potent than last season, as every starter returns. Headlining the bunch is RB Kyle Garcia (2,005 yards rushing, 35 TDs) and FB/LB Marcos Mendoza (150 tackles; 771 yards receiving, 20 TDs), perhaps two of the best players in six-man.

Last Result: Balmorhea 50, Rankin 0 (2016)

Garden City vs. Austin Veritas Academy (9/2) @ Borden County’s Coyote Stadium

Despite the graduation of some skill players from last season’s regional finalist team, the cupboard is far from bare at Garden City, as the Bearkats return seven total starters, including four on defense. QB/S Trent McMillan (1,291 yards passing, 33 TDs) is back under center, but also spearheads the defense (113 tackles, 6 INTs), where he earned second team all-state honors. Fellow second team all-state selection LB Cesar Chavez (153 tackles) also returns for GC.

Veritas won a district title and played deep into the postseason in 2016, and is ready for more as eight total starters return. WR/DB Samuel Zimel was named all-state on offense and defense, and is back along with with QB/LB Ben Hallam (38 tackles, 10 TFL).

Last Result: Garden City 62, Austin Veritas Academy 16 (2016)

Grandfalls-Royalty vs. Welch Dawson (9/1) John S. White Stadium

Grandfalls-Royalty won a state title in 2013, but suffered back-to-back 4-6 seasons afterwards. A possible resurgence is at hand though, as the Cowboys finished 2016 with a pair of playoff wins; seven total starters return to keep up their strong performance. Back under center for the Cowboys is QB/CB Jalen Helms (2,751 yards passing, 970 yards rushing, 62 total TDs), who earned second team all-state honors last season.

Dawson can challenge for the 6-1A DII title in 2017 with the return of six total starters, and a strong junior class.

Last Result: Grandfalls-Royalty 54, Welch Dawson 40 (2016)

Sterling City vs. Turkey Valley (9/2) @ Jayton’s Jaybird Stadium

Sterling City qualified for the playoffs last season, and the return of a few talented players bodes well for the Eagles. RB/LB Tavenn Raymor (1,322 yards rushing, 17 TDs) was named first team all-state, and DE Brenden Cisco (67 tackles, 6 sacks) earned honorable mention all-state. LB Josue Rodriguez (143 tackles, 4 defensive TDs) also returns for the Eagles defense.

Turkey Valley has qualified for the playoffs in every season since 2000; the Patriots were one game away from a state title berth last season. The streak may very well continue with the return of eight total starters. RB/LB Dax Allen (862 yards rushing, 16 TDs) and WR/LB Jayton Smith (533 receiving yards, 11 TDs) are back on offense, and DL Jake Merrell (45 tackles, 3 INTs) and WR/DB Juan Villarreal return to lead the defense.

Last Result: N/A (First Meeting)

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