It’s only six weeks before players begin their two-a-day workouts and one of the most significant defensive assets the Mineral Wells Rams are going to need in the 2019 football season is the ability to stop big-play passing.
Graham, Iowa Park, Springtown, Burkburnett, and Decatur are games to circle on the Rams’ schedule if you like watching a passing attack. The five schools combined for 13,877 yards passing and 155 touchdowns last year.
Here’s a quick look at the Rams’ upcoming opponents in 2019.
The Wolves are led by utility player Dorian Windley who had 700 total yards last season and 10 touchdowns on offense while recording 36 tackles and two interceptions on defense.
Ranchview is picked to finish fourth in their district behind Wilmer Hutchins, Alvarado, and Dallas Carter after going 5-5, 3-3 and making the bi-district round last year.
Running back and linebacker Kennedy had 63 tackles and three sacks last year to lead to Ranchview’s defense.
The Steers made it to the area around last year after an 8-4 season mark that included a 5-0 record in district play. Graham has one of the area’s best players in Hunter Lanham who had 2,802 yards passing last season and 29 touchdowns.
The quarterback showed steady improvement in the second half of the season and will have one of his top targets returning as Daniel Gilbertson who also lines up at running back. Gilbertson had 63 catches for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The offense for the Steers may have some glittering numbers, but opponents will need to watch out for Graham’s defense that returns the entire back seven including linebackers Cory Ballew (99 tackles) and Raider Horn (68 tackles), and safety J.J. Lee.
With the returning skill players the Steers have on offense and a rock-solid defense it’s no surprise Graham is picked to finish first in district play.
Sanger had the type of 2018 season sports fans want to forget as they finished 0-10 and lost eight of their games by double digits.
Looking to erase those bad memories is new coach Rocky Smart who has had stops at North Forney, Clyde and Seymour. The Indians have a superior athlete in Byron Dallas who plays quarterback, wide receiver, running back, cornerback and safety.
Sanger is going to have to depend on more than just one player if they hope to dig themselves out of a last-place prediction in district play. Sophomore quarterback Ryland Smart is 6-3, 195 and has an arm that might allow Dallas to excel elsewhere on the field.
Players will need to develop on both sides of the football, but the offensive and defensive lines need the most work due to a lack of size.
Iowa Park Hawks
The Hawks were state semifinalists in 2018 as they started slow and finished strong and in second place district play behind Graham with a 4-1 record and a 9-6 mark overall.
Iowa Park has a critical asset which doesn’t get much fanfare, but lineman Ryder Roberts, Billy Link, Austin Childs and Parker Berry have people excited about another deep run into the playoffs.
Quarterback Trent Green is a third-year starter and racked up respectable numbers in 2018 with 1,575 yards passing and 16 touchdowns. Wide receiver Kaden Ashlock was Green’s primary target with 44 catches for 904 yards and six touchdowns. Another key for the Hawks’ offense is Ashlock turning more of his receptions into touchdowns. Coaches are expecting to see Cirby Coheley become another go-to receiver for Green.
While the Hawks are getting some fanfare and made a deeper run than district opponent Graham did last season they are picked to finish second in district play.
Springtown did not list a potential quarterback in its preseason listings, but when you have a running back like Cameron Rickett, you might not need one. Rickett ran for 2,083 yards and 35 touchdowns, so it wasn’t like Springtown needed to pass very often as they went 8-3 last year.
The problem with being a run-dominant team is when you meet a team that can stop the run–which led to an early exit from the playoffs in the bi-district round for the Porcupines last year.
Defensively free safety Aaron Foster led Springtown after 58 tackles and four interceptions last season. Defensive end Jaquan Cummings has learned how to stop the run the hard way (nothing like tackling Rickett) and is also a solid pass rusher.
While the Porcupines do have a solid running game, it’s essential for them to establish a quarterback as a passing threat to continue keeping the lanes open for Rickett.
The Bulldogs did a lot of passing last season mainly because they were unable to move the football on the ground and it led to a 0-5 district record.
The lack of a running game gave quarterback Mason Duke plenty of time to develop his arm as he threw for 2,765 yards and 30 touchdowns last year. The Bulldogs need to find new targets for Duke as Brice Westbrook (20-215) is the only wide receiver returning who had meaningful playing time.
The Bulldogs return nine starters on the defensive side of the football which might keep them in games as the offense develops its skills.
Middle linebacker Simon Avey leads the Bulldogs defense after recording 62 tackles, and he has shown himself to be a heady player with the nose for the football. Fellow linebacker Justyn Peterson is another player who should make an impact.
Decatur was one game above .500 with an 8-7 mark but won their games when it counted getting to the state semifinals, and they are picked once again to win the district.
There are a lot of reasons to pick Decatur as the number one team but none more significant than quarterback Roman Fuller. In his first season as a starter,Fuller threw for 4,652 yards and 45 touchdowns which is a career for many high school quarterbacks.
Throw in running back Gunner Ragsdale and his 1,040 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns, and you have a downright scary offense. Wide receiver Dayne Chapman caught 61 passes for 800 yards and nine touchdowns last year.
Decatur has equally impressive numbers on defense linebacker Seth Hakanson recorded 122 tackles in 2018, and cornerback Layton Harris had 57 stops and six interceptions. Only five starters return on the defense, but there are plenty of junior varsity players to fill the stable.
A 3-2 district record got Gainesville into the playoffs last season and into the bi-district round where they made a quick exit as most 4-7 teams do.
The Leopards are rebuilding and enter the season without a solid starter at quarterback where the competition will be between Josh Faughtenberry and Treylan Schinault. Faughtenberry was the team’s defensive leader after 77 tackles last year, and he likes to mix it up with contact on both defense and offense.
Running back Brandon Baker is solid as a rock and ran for 1,213 yards and 11 scores. The Leopards are going to have to figure out how to exploit the talents of athlete Izaiah Baker who totaled more than 1,000 yards of offense last season.
WF Hirschi Huskies
The Huskies went 10-3, 4-1 in 2018 and made it to the regional semifinals but they are going to need to rebuild their offense in 2019.
Quarterback Tryston Randall is back as the signal caller and so is all-state lineman Jonny Taylor. The Huskies have six holes to fill on the offense, so they are another team needing its defense to come through early.
The Huskies are actually in good shape on defense with three-year starters linebacker Fred Fleeks (106 tackles) and defensive back Stavonte Vaughn (114 tackles) leading the way. The Huskies had a good year last year, but it’s never a good sign when it defensive back is triple digits in tackles.
That might be the primary reason Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine has picked the Huskies to finish third in district.