The Class 1A Roadmap
By Travis Stewart // TexasFootball.com
So you wanna be a 1A football fan, huh?
Your'e probably in the right place. Road maps for the state's smallest public 11-man classification don't grow on trees, and trust me, you'll want a little direction when you're trying to sort out the Smyers (Panhandle), Snooks (Centex), Stamfords (Big Country) and Savoys (North) of the football world. In Texas, to wrap your head around the tiniest schools to play 22 … you have to think big.
We here at DCTF are no stranger to the task, so we're putting together a cheat sheet — a 1A for Dummies, if you will — to bone up on before football kicks off in about two weeks. From games to names and plots to spots, we've got a pretty nice alpha and omega for your reading pleasure.
In a nutshell
Class 1A is always one of the more difficult to predict year in and year out, mainly because the small rosters mean the loss (or addition) of one kid or coach can drastically rearrange the face of an entire district, if not a region. Division II is even more volatile than DI. That's part of the fun of it, even if it does make for journalistic headaches come playoff time. Picking playoff games in 1A is like throwing a deck of 52 cards in the air, closing your eyes and trying to grab the ace of spades on their way down. There's a lot of possible outcomes that don't look much like yours.
But if there's one trump card in the Division I deck right now — two weeks before anyone's played a game — it looks like it could be Ganado, a Gulf Coast team about 30 miles northeast of Victoria that's just brimming with experienced talent. Now in coach Jimmy Thompson's second season (the 167-game winner went 11-1 in his Indian debut), the pride of 15-1A DI has a rare game-breaker in RB Josh Labay, a versatile senior who's posted more than 3,700 yards and 47 touchdowns over the past two seasons alone. He'll anchor Thompson's versatile offense and star at corner in the 4-3, but most importantly, he's just one of eight starters back on defense and 10 on offense. Another one of those 10? Lineman Anthony Parks, a starter last year who was born with a club foot. He'd be limping even if he didn't play football. Think you'll be able to fluster him in the trenches?
Wrangling its tough district won't be easy — rival Shiner brings back 14 starters from '10 and Flatonia 18 — but Ganado has problems that reach beyond just Week 10. Powerhouse Goldthwaite and run-centric Mason, a pair of Big Country teams that play two districts over in 13-1A DI, present unique challenges. Goldy, the 2009 DI champ and 2010 DI runner up (and 1A '85 champ, '93 champ and '94 champ), returns enough pieces in its Wishbone offense — notably QB Tyler Horton — to power through almost any opponent; head coach Gary Proffitt is an incredible 230-78-3 in his career with the Eagles. Expect nothing less than a stellar squad again.
Mason is in a slightly different world. Yes, the Punchers return sturdy runner David Mora, who led the nation (you read that correctly) in rushing yards last year (3,572). And yes, Mora broke the 17-year-old state record for single season carries with 498 (475, Ketrick Stanford). Nine offensive starters return around him, including his entire offensive line, which is made up of five seniors all topping 240 pounds. So where's the catch? Well, it lies in a late coaching change from five-year man Russell Joy, who stepped down in the offseason, to Thorndale-ex Kade Burns.
Burns had fine success at Thorndale, and even though May is late for a staffing switch, it's still enough time to get a system implemented. But Burns ran a wing-T at Thorndale, whereas Mason utilized an I-formation in the past. Do we anticipate Puncher problems? No. But continuity is a friend of victory. Just something to consider.
No other top ten team from Class 1A's Division I changed coaches in the offseason. But last year's champ, perennial power Mart, does have some rebuilding to do after graduating 18 seniors and turning the reins over to a smallish senior class. The defensive line, led by a pair of 200-pound all-district picks in Shannon Cordell and Hollis Adler, is probably the team's strength. Versatile Leonard Williams, who will play every skill spot on offense, and junior WR/DB Quentin Bryant are formidable as well. But Mart doesn't have a red carpet rolled out to Cowboys Stadium for it this year. The road to Arlington could be bumpy.
Air it out
But you can't go far through the 1A ranks without bringing up Canadian — or at least prolific signal-caller Braden Hudson, who returns for his senior year as the top passer in the class (3,236). The Wildcats' passing game has been one of the Panhandle's finest for years, both under current coach Chris Koetting and his predecessor, Kyle Lynch. Once again, Canadian will have the skill to put up eye-popping numbers. But it's the bulk that's the problem right now — Koetting lost two FBS signee linemen over the offseason, which is pretty much impossible to replace down in Class 1A.
That means the Wildcats will have to dig deep into their seemingly bottomless talent pool, down into potent freshman and sophomore ranks, to fill out the trenches. Luckily, Koetting's crew won't run into arch-rival Stratford until Week 8 — Canadian will be favored in that matchup, but these two are not known for predictable outcomes, and the winner of that district clash will almost certainly carry 1-1A DI. No offense intended to West Texas, Sunray or Boys Ranch, mind you. That's just a tough twosome to crack. But while we're talking passing numbers, let's not overlook Sunray's Talon Dooley, who is one of just six returning 1A passers to top 2,000 yards (2,008) in 2010.
Actually, let's stick with the aerial attack just a little longer. But to do so, let's shift down to Region IV, where Ben Bolt-Palito Blano WR Isaac Lewis could make a legit run at the record books if he can top last year's staggering receiving numbers (1,750). Merely matching 2010's numbers would get him close to Texas' top seven in career receiving yardage. Breaking into the top five in single-season numbers (1,900-plus) would for sure land him in that exclusive club. The only problem is that he's missing a battery mate after Aaron Bueno graduated. Don't hold your breath on the record chase, but he's still a talent to watch.
In that same district (16-1A DI), La Villa's Armando Garza bears the standard for South Texas passers (3,222 yards, third in all of Class 1A in 2010); sporting a fine receiver in Ricky Cantu helps. And just a ways over, in district 15-1A DI, Yorktown's Jayden Barefield returns for his senior year after a 1,000-yard, 19-score 2010 that earned him a second-straight all-state honor. Down South, these boys know how to wing the ball around.
As far as individual star power goes, 1A is David Mora's universe and everyone else is just kind of orbiting around in it. That's what happens when you lead the nation in rushing yards and have a really good chance to do it again. But don't tell that to powerful Garrison; as smashmouth as Mora's Mason group is, Garrison may have the Division I lead in pure power punches. The Bulldogs will be running the pro-I behind three offensive linemen who weigh at least 275 pounds, and the two primary runners, FB Josh Williams and RB Desmond McKibbens, weight a combined 460. Defenders will have fun with that.
Stamford QB Hagen Hutchinson presents a different conundrum. The son of head coach Wayne Hutchinson, Hagen carved up opponents to the tune of more than 3,500 total yards a year ago. But being stuck in Region I with Canadian and Stratford complicates issues, as does sharing a district with Denny Faith's Albany squad. The good news? Hagen is still only a junior. Keep an eye out for that one.
I'll close Division I without this — Alto, as dominant a program as there's ever been in Texas a few years ago, is back and looking good. Plan accordingly.
Wait … we're only halfway done?
Yeah — that was just Division I. Told you Class 1A could be confusing. Go get a drink of water and come back. I'm patient.
The Division II field, thankfully, is a little more clear cut — and it starts with the group that many experts had pegged for the 2011 title game along. It was the 2010 appearance that threw everyone off.
Coach Bill Green's Windthorst squad wasn't supposed to square off with Falls City for last season's DII hardware in Mansfield back in December. The Trojans were sporting a weaker senior class with promising but untested talent in the underclassman ranks. But the stunning rise of solid-to-spectacular QB Joe Hoegger, coupled with the continued growth of RB/LB Chase Schreiber and RB/CB Tyler Berardi, turned a look-out-for-2011 roster into a present day contender. Green's crew came up short against a very good Falls City team, but now it returns 13 starters, eight on defense, and has its run-based flexbone attacked lined up for a title berth.
Windthorst's luxury is in it's depth, because the Trojans roll out too many different runners for defenses to keep pace with. They wear you down, beating you up with physical running until you cave in. Their defense isn't exactly kind, either. It's definitely a tip of the cap to traditional smash-mouth football. Bill Green's biggest competition, however, does things completely different. Those Tenaha Tigers, the small East Texas town that started the 2010 season ranked No. 1 in the DII ranks, are a world apart from their West Texas competitors — indeed, Tenaha, roughly 40 miles southwest of Shreveport, is almost closer to Louisiana's well-known border city than any major Texas town. But whereas Windthorst wants to run you over, Tenaha wants to turn you around.
Which way did he go?
Enter versatile quarterback Reginald Davis, a second-team Super Team utility player that has the majority of Class 1A poring over film. Coach Terry Ward doesn't like to keep his star in one place — sometimes the speedy athlete is in the shotgun as a wildcat QB, sometimes he's split out wide, and sometimes they bring him across on the end-around. On almost any play, he's a threat to run, pass or receive. On his own, he's enough trouble to qualify for the playoffs. But returning 18 starters around him means the Tigers have a legit shot to win their first title since 1998.
At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he's a rare specimen at the small school ranks — and one of the few guys in all of 1A that could overshadow a district rival like Mount Enterprise, one of last year's region III finalists and, with 17 starters back, a veteran squad in the extreme. Had head coach Louie Johnson, the reigning 1A Coach of the Year, not stepped down in the offseason, maybe things would be different. But now prognosticators seem hesitant to crown the Wildcats as anything more than a contender. Breaking news: new coach Scott Holzhauer, the former OC, is pretty familiar with the system. He's got an exceptional offensive line to work with, too.
The 1A road map splits in a number of different directions here, as, outside of the aforementioned duo of Windthorst and Tenaha, the field balances out slightly. But I find it prudent to turn south, where the reigning champs are doing exactly what they're supposed to: quietly preparing to defend their title.
No rest for the weary
2A and 1A titles have not come easily to South Texas teams as of late; in fact, since 2001, the only 3A-1A teams that would really qualify as "South Texas" to win a title would be Bandera (north of San Antonio), Blanco (same), and Shiner, which is still almost 70 miles northeast of Falls City. When it comes to geography, the Beavers of FC have proven to be a rarity indeed. Maybe that's what's pushed them to the backburner in the DII title race. Maybe it's returning just six total starters. Either way, the message is clear: Last year is over.
Some things remain, most notably the flexbone offense that took Windthorst's strategy and used it against them last December. What's different is the personnel running it. QB Cameron Soto, brilliant as a sophomore a year ago, is back to take the snaps. Tyler Wiatrek is back at tight end (and linebacker) and Scott Lyssy will handle one of the guard positions. Other than that … well, it's all new faces. Keep an eye on the sophomore ranks, which boast talent, but it may take several weeks of the season to get this crew up to game speed. If Falls City is going to win it all, I'd think it'd be a run like that of Idalou in 2A DII last year — slow-starting, fast-finishing.
In the same mold is Springlake-Earth. The Wolverines, state semifinalists a year ago behind the heroics of QB Blake Betz, are also a little thin at the skill spots. But unlike the Beavers, Earth can turn to a veteran line with postseason experience — sixth-year coach Stan Caffey will send out at least three starters standing 6-foot-5, something many 4A schools can't even do. The two-back gun offense will have a lot of work to do to get up to speed, but blocking won't be one of their problems. The most dangerous team to Earth's Region I title hopes? Wellington, which is rapidly approaching death-and-taxes status — every year, the Skyrockets produce a winning product.
Outside of Windthorst, Region II has several dangerous options for a regional final — Iraan, Marfa and Munday are all legitimate picks to play deep into the postseason. But no star shines brighter than that of Munday QB Dee Paul, a versatile speedster who ran for 2,022 yards and 28 touchdowns a year ago. Word on the street this offseason is that he's working on his throwing motion and will be more dangerous — as a junior — passing the ball than ever before. And remember, it was just 2007 when Munday won its last title. The pedigree is there.
Iraan and Marfa, which will battle for 5-1A supremacy, are markedly different; whereas Iraan is going to attack on the ground, Marfa will turn the ball over to prolific slinger Jerram Rojo, the fifth leading returning passer in 1A this year. Assuming Iraan and Marfa sweep the top of the district, the implication of finishing first or second are massive. Winning the district means a first-round bye and missing Windthorst until the regional finals. Second-place means a second-round date with the favorites.
X marks the spot
Honestly, I've gotten you about as far as I can take you. Trust me, there are dozens of storylines left to digest — Burton, for example, or Muenster — but this was just a road map, not a thesis. We here at DCTF encourage you to dig into 1A football, still one of the state's finest traditions, on your own. But like the old phrase goes, I can only show you the door — you have to walk through it.