Early returns
Early returns
2012-03-07 00:00:00

Looking to get a head start on predictions and rankings for the 2012 season? Here's four teams that caught our eye as we continue to build the upcoming summer magazine, due to be released in June. And here's some good news — we'll be doing more and more of this as the offseason progresses.

 By Travis Stewart
 DCTF Managing Editor

I love the offseason.

Well, kind of. Trust me — being the managing editor of DCTF as I am, I hate being without actual football games for months on end. That's beyond painful. But there's just something about the tangible sense of hope that permeates the seemingly endless days of spring and summer; this is, after all, the only time of year where every coach, player, team and fan can realistically feel like they can be a winner. I don't think it's crazy to say I enjoy that.

So when coaches start sending in their information for the construction of the 2012 summer magazine, I tend to attack it with reckless abandon. I tear through every one of those suckers — all 1,400-plus. It's a lot of paper — and a moderate amount of paper cuts — but it's Christmas in March around our offices. Here's a few teams out of the hundreds that we've spoken to that resonated with me.

Cooper strong at all the right spots
When Todd Moebes took over the Abilene Cooper program in 2011, we all knew that former coach Mike Spradlin (now at Temple) was handing over the reins to a ship pointed in the right direction. While things didn't start off as smoothly as hoped — the Coogs lost their first two games a year ago — Cooper ended up finishing 9-4 (4-1 in district) with three FBS signees and two more off to the DII ranks. As far as maiden voyages go, that's about as good as you're going to get.

But even though Texas tech signee Clayton Nicholas is not returning at QB and the secondary will be a bit raw, there's a lot of reason for optimism out West. Lorenzo Joe, a sophomore wide receiver in 2011 who earned the 5A Newcomer of the Year award in our 2012 Winter magazine, is obviously back, as is versatile Fred Lawrence and promising junior LB Cordell Dorsey. Expect Lawrence to shine once again at both corner and in the return game, and Dorsey, who posted 14 TFL, 7 sacks and 3 FF as a sophomore last year, should improve. But the real X-factor is probably Joe, who moves to quarterback. At 6-foot-2, he has the size, and his 4.5 speed is a given based on his production in last year's playoffs. Now we just need to see him throw a little.

Keep in mind that the new-look 2-5A is there for the taking. Rival Abilene should be powerful once again — QB Evin Abbe should make sure of that — and Permian, with RB Jorrion Wilson and QB Jack Wilkins, won't be anything to sneer at either. But Amarillo Tascosa, Odessa and Lubbock Coronado are all either very young or just rebuilding, and Midland, Midland Lee and San Angelo Central (who graduated 14 senior starters) are probably more the middle class of the district than the upper crust. 

That other Cooper isn't bad, either
Hang with me out West for another minute, if you wouldn't mind — Lubbock Cooper is worth looking at, too. Last year, the Pirates went 8-4 and 5-0 in district before falling to high-powered Seminole in the second round. Those wins included one over powerful Lubbock Estacado in district play. No matter which way you slice the bread, Cooper was a team to be aware of.

Well, the 2012 season should be even better. The Pirates are bringing back 15 total starters — eight on offense and seven on defense — and more than 10 of them are seniors. This is the kind of group that coaches wait on for years to develop, and now John Windham, going on 14 seasons at Cooper, knows he could be on to something special: "We've had a great offseason and our team chemistry is awesome," Windham told us in his submitted information for the 2012 summer magazine. "We have big goals for the upcoming season."

Obviously the preseason is usually built on hope, but that's strong stuff right out of the gate from an experienced coach who just had a pretty successful season already. Big Byron Lara, a 6-foot-2, 315-pound two-way lineman, will anchor the trenches — that should be the strength of the team. Now Cooper just needs a QB to run that multiple-I offense. I expect the defense should be pretty good all year.

Wylie East hits the ground running
I know we're starting to get used to the concept of new varsity programs playing at state-title levels before they even hit their fifth birthday, but it's always fun to try and peg the next up-and-comer from each crop of fresh faces. Perhaps this year's dark horse could be Wylie East — just 2-8 back in 2010, their inaugural voyage, the Raiders finished at 8-3 in 2011 and made significant strides on both sides of the ball. This time out, the offense could be something special.

East may have the best crop of skill kids in the DFW 4A mix — heck, maybe all of North Texas in general. QB Garrett McCain, still only a junior in 2012, threw for 2,215 yards a year ago and looked pretty poised along the way. Having FBS-caliber receivers in Marcell Ateman — who measures in at 6-foot-5 — and Quan Jones helps quite a bit; those two combined for 1,479 yards and 16 TDs receiving last season. Then you throw in powerful tight end Jesse Brubaker (also a college recruit) and speedy RB Jabari Anderson (2,148 rushing yards and college offers), and that's a defensive coordinator's nightmare. 

The only problem — if you can call it that — will be defense. The Raiders gave up roughly 26 points per game a year ago and are still looking for one defensive leader to rally around. If coach Joe Lepsis can get that riddle figured out, this group could be the Spring Dekaney of 2012. 

Is it Memorial's time?
You have to look pretty hard to find a team that's suffered more than San Antonio Memorial has over the past couple ... well, decades, really. Memorial's only playoff appearance in school history was back in 1998, and the Minutemen carry the auspicious mark of holding two of the state's top ten longest losing streaks — 51 straight from 1983 to 1989 (third all-time), and 43 straight from 2005 to 2010. Winning seasons at Memorial are like winning the lottery.

But a fresh start — on multiple ends of the spectrum — may change the program's fortunes. First up is a new coach — Alex Guerra, who was the DL and power lifting coach at Pittsburg for the last year and half. Before that, the defensive-minded Guerra was the DC for state semifinalist Pittsburg (2007-2010) and held the same position with CC Tuloso-Midway. It shouldn't be hard to guess where his emphasis will be during the spring.

History implies Memorial isn't running amok towards a state title this year; the Minutemen finished 1-9 last year (winless in district) and the JV program finished 0-10. The new district also offers up recent success stories like Medina Valley and McCollum. But expect improvement from one of the River City's most overlooked programs — Memorial should be more organized this time out, and the growth of sophomore-to-be QB Alfred Ramos will be critical to making use of a pretty good wide receiver corps. 

Travis Stewart is the managing editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.

He can be reached via e-mail, via Twitter (@dctf) and via the DCTF Facebook page.

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