2020 Texas High School Football Season Preview: District 17-6A

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District 17-6A is a combination consisting of four Cy-Fair ISD schools and four Houston Spring Branch ISD schools. It is nearly identical to this district from the previous realignment with the departure of Cypress Falls to District 16-6A the only change from a year ago. 

With a homecoming at a perennial contender, a new head coach looking to turn around a struggling Northbrook program, a star running back leading the way at Memorial, two star receivers looking to settle in a new quarterback at Jersey Village, and plenty of familiarity among these teams from the previous realignment, it is shaping up to be a competitive district.

Here is what to watch for in District 17-6A this year.

Cy-Fair Bobcats (3314.5)

Last Season: 11-1; Defeated by Katy in area round

Head Coach: Jeff Miller: 1st season as head coach

Player to watch: RB LJ Johnson- One of the most talented running backs in Texas, he rushed for 1,952 yards and 37 touchdowns a year ago, earning the District 17-6A Offensive MVP award. He currently has 40 Division I offers from a host of Power Five programs and is primed for another big season for the Bobcats.

Storylines: Legendary coach Ed Pustejovsky retired this past offseason after 16 years as the head coach at Cy-Fair, where he amassed a 138-57 record. He had been an assistant coach at the school since 1982 before earning the top job in 2004. His most notable achievement during his tenure was leading the Bobcats to their first ever state title back in 2017. To replace him, Cy-Fair went with a hometown hire, tabbing Rockdale head coach Jeff Miller, a Cy-Fair graduate, as its new head coach. Fortunately for Miller, he has plenty of talent to work with. Johnson and his running back counterpart and fellow senior Ahmad Gibson, 475 rushing yards, both return to lead the run game. These two will be joined in the backfield by senior quarterback Carter Cravens, who is coming off a breakout season where he threw for 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns, earning District 17-6A Offensive Newcomer of the Year. The Bobcats also return a big target and key blocker at tight end in Virginia commit 6’7” Jack Witmer, a unanimous first team selection last season. On the other side of the ball, the defense has plenty of returning talent back too after only giving up eight points per game last season. The secondary will certainly be a  test for opposing quarterbacks as Nick Chrest, six interceptions and 40 tackles, Thatcher Milton, 50 tackles and an interception, and Evan DeLaune, 53 tackles, all return after earning district honors last season. Another player to keep an eye on is Hunter Warren, 52 tackles, as he earned a first team all-district selection at linebacker as a sophomore last season. These Bobcats always had high hopes under Pustejovsky and, with the talent they have returning, an eleventh straight playoff appearance will be expected as Miller makes his debut at his hometown program. 

Cypress Creek Cougars (3137)

Last Season: 9-5; Defeated by Katy Taylor in regional final

Head Coach: Greg McCaig: 19th season as head coach

Player to watch: LB Joey Verret- He had a breakout season at linebacker last season as a junior, earning District 17-6A Defensive Newcomer of the Year. He racked up 83 tackles, including 9.5 for loss, and should be a stalwart in the heart of the Cougars defense again this year. 

Storylines: The Cougars have been flying high the past two seasons with their first two regional finals appearances. If they are to reach those heights again, some key players will need to be replaced, including their starting quarterback, two leading rushers, and two leading receivers. However, the good news is that the Cougars have plenty of options as they look to find their new starting quarterback. “We don’t lack for bodies at the quarterback position,” McCaig said. “We just need to see who steps up and takes the position.” Among the contenders, according to McCaig, are seniors Austin Diaz, Travis Alonge, and juniors Carson Purdes, Sebastian Segovia, and Jacob Adams. McCaig also mentioned sophomores Sam Houston and Josh Sabrasula and freshmen Brad Jackson and Jared Guter as younger players who could potentially play themselves into consideration as well. Whoever comes out of that competition will have two returning impact players at their disposal in the passing game in Brazos Gadler, 478 receiving yards a year ago, and WR/TE Korey Celestine, 251 receiving yards. “Having Korey and Brazos back will be key for us. Their experience and talent level will give us a good base from which we can build,” McCaig said. “Both [Korey and Brazos] evolved in a positive direction as the season progressed.  Korey became a more physical player who has a great deal of versatility.  He can play in the backfield, in an “H-back” position and even as a tight end.  Brazos became a very dangerous slot receiver who excelled as a kick returner.  He also became more versatile and allowed us to manipulate defensive coverage because he started to understand the position at a higher level.  We hope [they] can continue their upward trend and help lead some of the younger guys to success.”  McCaig also noted that he is looking at senior receivers Cole Hess and Ryan Nguyen and running back Khalil Watts to be “very important to our offensive success,” after all three gained varsity experience last season. On the defensive side of the ball, Verret will be joined by cornerback Roderick Jackson, 46 tackles and an interception, as the key returning players. The other eight players who earned district honors last season on defense graduated, so the Cougars have their work cut out for them as they reload on that side of the ball. Despite this roster turnover, with two straight regional finals appearances, these Cougars will certainly be a team to keep an eye on this season.

Cypress Ridge Rams (3113)

Last Season: 5-5

Head Coach: Andrew Shanle: 2nd season as head coach

Player to watch: RB Mark Benjamin- He had an impressive 2019 season, rushing for 600 yards on 48 carries, earning second team all-district honors. He showcased his explosiveness with touchdown runs of 94 yards and 95 yards in back-to-back weeks last season and will be a key part of the Rams offense again this year.

Storylines: The Rams went .500 in Shanle’s first season, but they have a lot of key pieces back offensively this year. The backfield has a multitude of options starting at the quarterback position as Isaiah Phillips, 480 passing yards, and Justin Austin, a versatile player who had 207 passing yards and 123 receiving yards, both return after seeing time at the quarterback position last season. Running back has plenty of talent too in Benjamin and Tristian Fletcher, 343 rushing yards. Another player of note is Jaelon Madden, who can play both at quarterback and receiver. He rushed for 170 yards and added 138 receiving yards a year ago. Looking to the other side of the ball, the defense was hit harder by graduation with five of the Rams’ six leading tacklers graduating. Will Walker, 40 tackles, will be a mainstay for the Rams at linebacker, while Miguel Moreno will bring valuable experience on special teams as a kicker after earning a district honorable mention last year as a sophomore. The Rams have a lot of options on offense and, if they can get players to fill some holes on defense, they will hope to contend for their first playoff berth in four years.

Houston Memorial Mustangs (2668)

Last Season: 7-5; Defeated by Katy Taylor in area round

Head Coach: Gary Koch: 28th season as head coach

Player to watch: RB Carson Zahn- A two-sport star who also plays baseball for the Mustangs, he is entering his third season as a varsity contributor. He had an impressive sophomore year, rushing for 782 yards and 10 touchdowns, which earned him first team all-district honors. He is poised to be a key player for the Mustangs again this season.

Storylines: The Mustangs hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2015 and hadn’t won a playoff game since 2014 before snapping both of those streaks last season. This year, Zahn is the most notable player returning offensively. Senior Ian Stinneford saw limited playing time at quarterback last year, including in the playoff game against Katy Taylor as the backup, and could be an option to start this year. The defense has some more talent back. Seniors Sean Sheets, a first team selection, and Carter Wienert, a second team selection, both return in the secondary, while Patrick Smith, another second team selection, should be a key player at linebacker. The Mustangs have a lot of graduated seniors to replace, but they will look to keep the momentum going from last year’s impressive season. 

Houston Northbrook Raiders (2973) 

Last Season: 0-10

Head Coach: Andres Gomez: 1st season as head coach

Player to watch: DB Noah Cox- He can do it all for the Raiders. Gomez expects him to be the Raiders’ most versatile player and contribute in the secondary defensively, as a running back and receiver on offense, and as the punter and return man on special teams. He will be on the field a lot this year for the Raiders and is certainly a player that opposing teams will have to be wary of.

Storylines: Andres Gomez comes over from Klein Cain, where he was the assistant head coach, to replace Jeff Sciba, who stepped down after four years at the helm. Northbrook, which is a perennial underdog without a winning season since 1993, heads into this year looking to snap a 21-game losing streak. Despite these struggles, Gomez has high hopes for his new players. “My first impression of this team is that the seniors have been through a lot of challenges and therefore have developed a toughness that we will certainly benefit from as we figure out what this season will look like,” Gomez said. “We have only had three weeks of workouts this summer to try to work together and get to know each other in person, but I have seen some great effort from guys who are hungry to change the reputation and attitude at Northbrook.” Quarterback Keon Kennerson, a senior team captain for the Raiders, wide receivers Daniel Holman and Guillermo Rodriguez, and running back Doni Amaya are skill players that Gomez expects to help lead the offense. He also believes that the offensive line will create opportunities for these skill players to succeed. “I have also been impressed with the way our offensive line has come together under the leadership of Jon Dedmon, who played tight end last year but is going to anchor the line as our center this year,” Gomez said. “Along with talented skill players on offense, the offensive line has really stepped up to create an excitement on our campus that has not been here recently.” Defensively, the front seven has a lot of talent for the Raiders heading into this season. Up front on the defensive line, Jorge Valle and Pedro Mejia are two players to watch off the edge. “We think our defensive line will be a strength of our team, not only because they possess a relatively good amount of depth, but also because guys like Jorge Valle and Pedro Mejia have proven themselves to be solid, dependable players who can lead that group and provide stability along our defensive front,” Gomez said. At outside linebacker, JD Watkins and Sergio Muñoz, both team captains, will be crucial leaders for the defense. “Sergio Munoz and JD Watkins were both elected as captains for this season, and it has been very evident as to why from the few workouts we had,” Gomez said. “There aren’t many other players who can match their intensity and effort in the weight room and the practice field.” With this front seven and Cox’s ability in the secondary, the Raiders’ defense will certainly be crucial to their success this season. “We are anxious to get on the field and begin the transformation to a new and exciting era of Northbrook Raider football,” Gomez said. He will hope that the strengths of both the offensive line and defensive line will anchor the Raiders as they look to turn around this Northbrook program and get back moving in the right direction. 

Houston Spring Woods Tigers (2335)

Last Season: 1-9

Head Coach: Keith Cripps: 11th season as head coach

Player to watch: LB/QB Thomas Ainsworth- He is the lone returning player for Spring Woods that earned district honors after being named an honorable mention last season. He will be a stalwart on defense for the Tigers and could potentially contribute on offense if the Tigers need him under center.

Storylines: The Tigers have only won two games the past two years and haven’t made the playoffs since 1997. However, there is room for hope. Junior Isaiah McKnight is back at quarterback and Ainsworth is a potential option if needed to help lead the Tigers’ Wing-T attack. At running back, senior Andrew Trevino, who can also play defensive end, will bring more varsity experience to the Tigers offense. On defense, Ainsworth will continue to anchor the team at linebacker, while Jimmy Castaneda is a notable player returning in the secondary. With these key players returning, the Tigers will hope last year will have provided the experience and learning opportunities needed for this team to take a step in the right direction this season.

Houston Stratford Spartans (2283)

Last Season: 4-6

Head Coach: Todd Rankin: 3rd season as head coach

Player to watch: WR Ben Moseley- He caught 35 passes for 587 yards and five touchdowns a season ago, earning second team all-district honors. He recently committed to Brown University and is poised to be a key piece in an offense with a lot of playmakers back.

Storylines:  The Spartans have a lot of returnees on both sides of the ball, so there is hope they can build off of last season. Seniors A.J. Abbott, 696 passing yards and 170 rushing yards, and Dylan Shoemake, 719 passing yards, are two good options at quarterback after both saw playing time last year and earned district honorable mentions for their play. These quarterbacks will be joined in the backfield by running back Darese Steptoe, a second team selection after rushing for 639 yards last season. Versatile junior Diego Denson is another key piece of the offense after rushing for 256 yards and adding 270 receiving a year ago. “We feel like we will be able [to] distribute the ball to a number of different players on offense and still be productive,” Rankin said. “All of this should make it harder for defenses to shut down our run game, pass game, or both.” On defense, four players return who earned district honorable mentions a year ago. Reco Griffin, 54 tackles and five sacks, and Vincent Cashiola, who also competes at the shot put for the Spartans track team, will anchor the defensive line. Drew Arend will be a key player at linebacker, while Luke Simonich returns in the secondary. “Missing spring ball, we still have a lot of questions to answer before we know exactly what kind of team we will have this year, but having some key returners will help,” Rankin said. With that aforementioned talent back on both sides of the ball for the Spartans, a first playoff berth since 2017 is certainly not out of the question.

Jersey Village Falcons (3371.5)

Last Season: 4-6

Head Coach: David Snokhous: 24th season as head coach

Player to watch: WR Mike Evans- A big-bodied receiver at 6’6”. He earned first team all-district honors after racking up 529 receiving yards and eight touchdowns a year ago and will be a key cog in the Falcons offense again this season.

Storylines: The Falcons have a lot of key players back this season and will hope to find the success they did in 2018, when they went 10-2 and earned their first playoff victory in 14 years. One big blow is the loss of star quarterback Caleb Weaver, who recently announced that he will be moving to Los Angeles, but the offense still has two reliable targets in the passing game in receivers Evans and Dionel Burrell, 628 receiving yards. Before Weaver left, Snokhous had said that he had very high hopes for his offense. “All three [Evans, Weaver, and Burrell] are three-year starters who are very talented and skilled athletes who love the game,” Snokhous said. “You can’t replace their on-field experience as well as their leadership that they give this team day in and day out. Looking for big thing from all three.” Now the Falcons will hope that their talented receivers can help to settle in their new quarterback. The run game should also help as senior Lavar Alexis, 406 rushing yards, and junior Xavier Joyce, 379 rushing yards, both return at the running back position. Defensively, Alec Dalencour, 66 tackles, has offers from Louisiana-Monroe and Air Force and should be a leader in the secondary. Linebackers Andre Fields Jr., 53 tackles, and Adin Wilson, 33 tackles including seven for loss, are two more key returnees for the Falcons defense. If the Falcons can find a new quarterback, their stacked offense and the promising players returning on defense should mean that they will be right in the mix for a playoff berth come the end of the season.

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