5A/4A Preview: Week Zero
Ranking, analyzing and picking the 12 best big-school games in Week Zero.
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Tonight, across Texas, lights will flicker to light and rain down artificial sunshine on gridirons. Athletes who have been waiting months and months for a chance to hit someone will finally quench their thirst. Fans will rise as one and cheer on their team – no, cheer on their community – as they battle.
Tonight is the first Friday night of Texas high school football season, and that means the state of Texas is back to the way it should be.
This year, we’re going to do our 5A and 4A previews a little differently. Instead of picking five or so games to preview from each class, I’m going to rank the 12 biggest games in 5A and 4A this weekend (plus some games that just missed the cut). That way, you know which ones you should really have your eye on.
Ready? Let’s begin. This is the 5A and 4A Preview for Week Zero of the 2013 Texas high school football season.
Just Missed The Cut…
Hebron (0-0) at Abilene (0-0)
Tepper’s pick: Abilene 36, Hebron 20
Arlington Bowie (0-0) at Mansfield (0-0)
Tepper’s pick: Arlington Bowie 30, Mansfield 29
Nederland (0-0) at Crosby (0-0)
Tepper’s pick: Nederland 36, Crosby 23
Pflugerville Connally (0-0) at Elgin (0-0)
Tepper’s pick: Elgin 42, Pflugerville Connally 28
Burleson Centennial (0-0) at Ennis (0-0)
Tepper’s pick: Ennis 31, Burleson Centennial 21
Montgomery (0-0) at Angleton (0-0)
Tepper’s pick: Angleton 37, Montgomery 20
Brenham (0-0) at Richmond Foster (0-0)
Tepper’s pick: Brenham 21, Richmond Foster 14
Houston Memorial (0-0) at Houston Stratford (0-0)
Tepper’s pick: Houston Stratford 28, Houston Memorial 18
The Top 12 Games
12) Weslaco (0-0) at Edcouch-Elsa (0-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
Spoiler alert: I think Edcouch-Elsa has a chance to become the Darling of the Valley this season. Sure, there’s a lot of exciting talent back on offense – QB Noe Gonzalez, WR Diego Garcia, TE Isaac Martinez, et al – but what really has me geeked up is the defense. La Machina Amarilla (that’s “the yellow machine” for my fellow non-Valleyites) will feature RGV’s best D, with DE Robert Trevino up front and a pair of LBs in Bucky Barrera and Brandon Villa that provide all the leadership you need. Weslaco’s got some pieces, too, specifically RB Eric Gonzales and TE Derrick Castillo, but it’ll be up to coach Tony Villarreal to develop an offensive line and get the defense to play up to its capabilities. Both of these teams, I think, are going places, but I lean towards E-E in the opener.
Tepper’s pick: Edcouch-Elsa 35, Weslaco 24
11) Abilene Cooper (0-0) at Wichita Falls Rider (0-0), 7 p.m. Friday
You know what I love most about this time of year? Cross-regional play, like this. Abilene Cooper has dreams of winning the Little Southwest Conference (that’s District 2-5A, if you’re keeping score at home), and it all starts with the man with two first names: quarterback Lorenzo Joe. The Texas commit can do it all, and with friends like RB/WR waterbug Trey Dye and big OL Lucas Raley helping him out, the offense should hum. The defense, too, should be stout though inexperienced, with DB Cordell Dorsey leading the way. For WF Rider, they’re that “other team” in District 5-4A, but if you don’t know what you’re dealing with here, in the words of a science teacher I know, tread lightly. Sure, star QB JT Barrett is off to Ohio State, but remember that RB Carlos Fleeks and QB Chase London got plenty of experience when he went down last year, guiding the Raiders to the state semifinals. And the outstanding LB corps of Sam Scribner and Bradley Goldstein should lead the way should the offense flounder early. This is a really great early-season matchup, but I think I lean ever slightly toward the home team.
Tepper’s pick: Wichita Falls Rider 28, Abilene Cooper 25
10) San Antonio Brandeis (0-0) at Smithson Valley (0-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
It’s a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of great football in the Alamo City, and this is one of the hearty side dishes. Brandeis will have one of the area’s best defenses, anchored by LB Chase Guillory, DE Corey Hayes and CB Kadarius Lee, and we all know that if you can stop the run, you can win in San Antonio. They’ll be facing a Smithson Valley offense that’s without its most recognizable part – the recently graduated Lawrence Mattison at RB – but still ripe with talent, with QB Garrett Smith and a WR named Joseph Barsalou who could be a household name by the time it’s all said and done. But it’s the other side of the ball – Brandeis’ offense vs. Smithson Valley’s defense – that will tell the tale. Both units have talent – WR Larry Stephens and RB Dayden Wooster for Brandeis, DE Mason Nasis and DB Shane Piatnik for Smithson Valley – but the surrounding cast is still raw for both. Which one gels faster?
Tepper’s pick: Smithson Valley 31, Smithson Valley 28
9) John Tyler (0-0) at Lufkin (0-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
Out East, it’s two traditional powers who are more or less flying under the radar this year because of what they lost. John Tyler is without now-FBS players QB Greg Ward, WR Fred Ross and DE Tyus Bowser; Lufkin is without now-FBS players WR JaBryce Taylor and DE Demontrai Lewis. So, where do they go? Well, John Tyler’s still got RB Reggie Gipson and a staunch defense spearheaded by DB Terry Ausborne and LB Andrew Clark, and Lufkin’s still got A&M commit WR Jamal Jeffery next to FBS prospect WR Terry Mark. The biggest question mark here is the Lufkin defense, though I’m a fan of DL DJ Williams. Can Lufkin stop the run long enough to give their offense time to get its feet underneath it? Regardless, this is a heated battle; East Texas has been craving high school football for nine months, and now they get two of the winningest teams in the state going at it. Can’t beat that.
Tepper’s pick: Lufkin 29, John Tyler 27
8) Converse Judson (0-0) at Lake Travis (0-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
History will be made tonight: for the first time in six years, we’ll see Lake Travis after a playoff loss. The Cavs got their five-year, 30-game playoff win streak snapped by Pflugerville in their inaugural 5A playoff matchup, and now must regroup without folks like QB Baker Mayfield. The good news? That defense will be loaded with DB Luke Hutton, DL Zach Davies and LB Hagen Patterson, and oh yeah, A&M commit Varshaun Nixon will be toting the rock. The question around Judson is: are the Rockets ready for liftoff in year two of the Mark Smith era? There are lots of key pieces in place – TE Cedric Williams, LBs Malik Pryor and Justin Johnson – but there’s a lot riding on the performance of QB RayJohn Austin-Ramsey (the man with four names!). If he plays well, Judson’s going to be very, very dangerous.
Tepper’s pick: Lake Travis 26, Converse Judson 23
7) Coppell (0-0) at Longview (0-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday at Allen
This was billed as the battle of two of the state’s best defensive linemen – Coppell DE/nightmare fueler Solomon Thomas and Longview DT/weekly menace Zaycoven Henderson. But Henderson is reportedly out with an injury, so we’ll just have to deal with seeing only one amazing DL talent. Longview’s going to be its usual self under coach John King – lethally fast, with WR Dorian Leonard and DBs Stephon Maxey and Travin Howard. But Coppell…well, some think this could be Coppell’s best team ever. The Thomas-led defense is one thing (oh, and LB John Herubin’s a stud, too); can the offense, led by RB Gavin McDaniel, find its groove? A team with a great defense is a great team; a team with a great defense and a great offense is a state championship-caliber squad. Which one is Coppell?
Tepper’s pick: Coppell 33, Longview 21
6) Arlington Martin (0-0) at DeSoto (0-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
How do you feel about speed? You in favor of it? Because if so, you can’t do much better than this matchup. Both teams lost major playmakers – DCTF’s Player of the Year RB Dontre Wilson for DeSoto, star RB and now TCU Horned Frog Kyle Hicks for Martin – and yet, both should keep on trucking. Martin’s going to be more of a defense-first squad this year, and that’s thanks to superstar DE Myles Garrett, a DCTF Super Team pick, and DB Cedric Fernandes. The offense should be provided by sophomore RB Nick Smith and WR Jsosh Hall, but the QB situation is still a work in progress. For DeSoto, well, they’ll be defense-first, too, surprisingly. Between DB Nick Orr, DL Shaquel Jackson and DL Bryce English, this Eagles defense is going to fly (puns!). Oh, and QB Desmon White – who racked up almost 5,000 total yards last year – is back, too. Did I mention him? Because he’s why DeSoto wins this one.
Tepper’s pick: DeSoto 35, Arlington Martin 26
5) The Woodlands (0-0) vs. Dallas Skyline (0-0), 6 p.m. Saturday at Georgetown
I’m not sure how I feel about Skyline. On one hand, losing four FBS-level guys – QB Devante Kincade, WR Ra’Shaad Samples, DB Will Barrow and DL Kerrick Huggins – is a blow to any program. On the other…doesn’t Skyline always just go all Jay-Z on us and get “On To the Next One”? Super Team OL Ty Barrett is the star, but that defense – CB Cedric Collins, DB Derrick Dixon and DL Victor Evans – is going to be salty. The Woodlands, on the other side, is a team I think I understand. Coach Mark Schmid’s Highlanders are going to be explosive with WRs Tyler Patrick and Bayley Novak, and deep and talented on defense, with DL Matt Miller and CB T.C. Schneider leading the way. Oh, and RB Patrick Carr, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a sophomore, is back and could establish himself as one of Houston’s best backs. Tough one to call, but when in doubt, go with the team with the best overall player – that’s Barrett.
Tepper’s pick: Dallas Skyline 34, The Woodlands 28
4) Highland Park (0-0) vs. Aledo (0-0), 7 p.m. Saturday at Allen
It’s one of the big questions in Texas this fall: is Aledo back? Now a year removed from its title threepeat, coach Tim Buchanan’s Bearcats look awful stout, especially on defense where it all begins and ends with LB Jordan Mittie. The offense doesn’t have a Johnathan Gray, but it’s got many interesting pieces, with RB Jess Anders and QB Luke Bishop operating behind big OL Cory Stitle. For Highland Park, this is an odd year. Another year without a lot of experience, this’ll have to be a defense-first squad early, with exceptional depth at DL – Andrew Clyde, Jack Verveha, Caz Orr – leading the way. Just one starter’s back on offense (OL Tony Richards), so the big question is how quickly QB Brooks Burgin and RB Stephen Dieb can get up to speed. Probably not quick enough to topple surging Aledo on the road.
Tepper’s pick: Aledo 35, Highland Park 24
3) San Antonio Madison (0-0) at Cibolo Steele (0-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
In almost any other week, this would be the biggest game in the state. What strikes me most about this game is the coaching matchup. Madison coach Jim Streety, 4th all-time in career wins, will coach in his 463rd game tonight; Steele coach Scott Lehnhoff, from his OC position after Mike Jinks left for Texas Tech, will coach in his first. As far as the game is concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to find more offensive firepower. Madison, even without graduated RB Marquis Warford, has a plethora of options led by WR Byron Daniels and QB Cody Ennis. Steele counters with perhaps San Antonio’s best player, RB Justin Stockton. The difference, as it usually is, will be defense; which unit is better from day one? For now, that title goes to Steele, with bookend DEs Josh Malin and Matt Simmons, but I’d be stunned if this game was decided by more than 10 points.
Tepper’s pick: Cibolo Steele 42, San Antonio Madison 32
2) Austin Westlake (0-0) at Cedar Park (0-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
Well hey! It’s this week’s site of Fox Football Friday Powered by DCTF, our TV show on Fox Sports Southwest from 7pm-11pm tonight! I’ll be co-hosting alongside my television life partners Jeff Power and Angela Hamann, bringing you four hours of unprecedented high school football coverage from across Texas. We’ve got score updates, highlights, analysis, live reports from this game, hijinks, and if none of that interest you, you can sit on your couch and laugh at me! So tune in, because that’d make me happy.
On to the game, where boy, right off the bat, you’ve got two state title contenders. Cedar Park, the defending 4A Division II champs, are back and dangerous as ever for a repeat, especially with what should still be central Texas’ best defense, led by LB Thomas Middleton and lockdown DB Ryan Lemmons. And with QB Nate Grimm having another year under his belt, the Timberwolves could be – gulp – even better than last year. But not so fast, because Westlake brings its own state title hopes into this one, and a lot of that has to do with their own defense, anchored by one of Central Texas’ best linebacker duos in Hudson Hall and Breckyn Hager. And when you factor in QB Jordan Severt’s return and WR Patrick Elliot…I mean, this one’s too close to call. In fact…I’ll wait until I’m on TV to make my pick, because I am a glutton for ratings.
Tepper’s pick: TO BE REVEALED on Fox Football Friday Powered by Fox Sports Southwest from 7pm-11pm
1) Allen (0-0) at Southlake Carroll (0-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
And now, the big one. It’s not every year that the first week out of the chute features two Top 5 teams going at it, yet here we are. Everyone knows about Allen – the defending 5A Division I champs, the consensus No. 1 team in 5A, and the apple of the high school football world’s eye. They have QB Kyler Murray, still just a junior and yet already one of the state’s most electrifying players. But the strength will be on the defensive side, led by LBs Christian Sam and Tay Evens as well as DB Chad Adams. For Southlake Carroll, they enter the year with someone other than Kenny Hill taking the snaps for the first time in three years. It’ll be Ryan Agnew, who dazzled in 7-on-7 drills but has limited experience in real game. The good news for Carroll: the supporting cast is outstanding, from RB AJ Ezzard to all-everything OL Evan Brown to LB JB Copeland to DL King Newton and on and on. If Agnew needs time to adjust, chances are he’ll have it thanks to the supporting cast. Last year, Allen opened its new stadium by shutting out Carroll; this year, I think it’s closer, but I’m still leaning toward the team with the best player on the field: Kyler Murray and the Eagles.
Tepper’s pick: Allen 24, Southlake Carroll 21
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.