Every year when the summer edition of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football comes out, fans and media alike look at the teams we have at the top of the pre-season rankings to get an idea of who likely makes the trip to Arlington to play for a state title at AT&T Stadium in December.
While the teams ranked highly in the pre-season are there for good reason, we all know there are always a few “mystery guests” that pop up with deep playoff runs and sometimes state titles when the season wraps up. Who are those teams you need to keep an eye on in 2018? We’ve got you covered at DCTF as we bring you our 2018 “Hipster Picks” to keep in your back pocket as you casually drop them into conversation with your friends from time to time, so once they make that deep run, you can look like a TXHSFB genius!
Snyder: The Tigers got plenty of good news in February as UIL realignment dealt Snyder some positive news for the first time in the past four seasons. The Tigers are now in Division II after spending the last two cycles of realignment as one of the state’s smallest 4A Division I schools, knocking heads against the likes of Abilene Wylie, Brownwood and Stephenville. Now Snyder gets to compete on a much more even playing field against traditional rivals like Sweetwater, Monahans and Lamesa; even though those games won’t be easy, coach Cory Mandrell is confident a veteran squad can be right in the title mix in a wide-open District 1-4A Division II. The key will be keeping QB Logan Greene healthy — if he’s 100%, Snyder’s offense has playmakers in RB JJ Burns along with two-way standouts Nathan Kendrick and Jake Chavez. Julian Flores, who stepped in at QB when Greene got hurt a year ago, brings plenty of versatility to the table and could contribute at multiple positions on both sides of the ball. Snyder should have improved depth as well as due to injuries several young players got thrown into the fire a year ago; the key will be trying to snag one of those top two seeds in the district to set up a favorable first-round game.
Sunnyvale: The Raiders are making the leap into Class 4A after some very successful runs at the Class 3A level, including a hard-fought 7-5 campaign in 2017 that was marred by injuries all season long. An impressive nine starters are back on the offensive side of the ball, and a district realignment that should allow coach John Settle’s squad to be right in the district title mix lends to a lot of positive vibes around the Raiders program. QB Tripp McAda, who impressed last year in accounting for 24 total touchdowns, is back; he certainly turned some heads this summer during 7-on-7 and could have a monster senior season. RB/DB Brian Perry is back after missing all of 2017 with an injury suffered in preseason workouts; he gives Sunnyvale a big-play threat in the ground game. He’ll operate behind OL Marcus Alexander, who is a force up front. Devin Sterling leads what will be a revamped defense, but Settle thinks they have a chance to be better in 2018 because of better team speed. This is a team that played 14 sophomores last year and still had a quality JV team that posted a 9-1 mark a year ago. Expect SHS to be a district title contender right off the bat in Class 4A.
Wharton: It was a tough first season at the helm for coach Chad Butler, as a very young Wharton squad stumbled to just a single win. Things are a bit different for the Tigers in 2018 as fifteen starters are back in the fold and realignment has not only brought the Tigers closer to home, but into a district they should compete in right out of the box. Speed will be the name of the game for Wharton with playmakers at the skill spots like QB Donovan Krushall, WR Clarence Branch and RB Da’Braylen Finex; all three are capable of taking the top off a defense. The big question mark on both sides of the ball will be up front as the Tigers still have a lot of question marks there, Wharton may not have enough to keep up with district favorite Sweeny, but with some breaks, this is a team that could finish second in 11-4A Division II and have a favorable early round playoff path.
Rockport-Fulton: The Pirates were one of the state’s great stories of 2017. After the devastation brought on by Hurricane Harvey, Rockport-Fulton still managed to play the 2017 season without a school building of their own. Not only did coach Jay Seibert’s squad play, but they played well, earning a playoff spot and a playoff victory at the Division I level. 2018 brings about a drop to Division II and a veteran team that is as mentally tough as any you’ll find in the state of Texas, so big things could be in store. The Pirates' Slot-T offense brings back nine total starters led by RB Chase Rios, who topped the 1,000 yard mark while sharing carries a year ago. Don’t be fooled by the offensive system — Rockport can throw the ball, as evidenced by a trip to the Texas 7-on-7 State Tournament this summer and the return of TE Adam Lamb, a three-year starter who led the team in pancake blocks in addition to his receiving ability. Team speed will be the strength on defense with the return of playmaking LBs CJ Cantu and Tanor Waggoner. Look for Rockport-Fulton to contend with perennial Coastal Bend power Sinton for bragging rights in 15-4A Division II. The playoff draw early on could be favorable especially if a second-round game against Cuero or Wimberley can be avoided.