Excellent, diverse teams spurring on a golden age in Class 4A

Photo by Gordon DeLoach

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We might be living in the golden age of 4A football. It’s hard to say how far back it started (probably while it was still called 3A), and it’s trickier still to know how much longer it will last. Maybe it’ll last forever.

Why the bold declaration? The depth and variety of excellent teams jockeying for position year-in, year-out.

On the surface, you may look at the state champions over the last five years and see a triangulated region between Waco, Texarkana and Cuero that encapsulates all of the 4A DI and DII champions. One magical geographic tract of excellence.

But each of the champions has a very different identity, and it’s resulted in thrilling, competitive title games for all of us to enjoy. Carthage’s multiple-pro offense beat teams on the ground and in the air, supported by salty defense. West Orange-Stark had the Chain Gang defense, pummeling the state’s best attacks. Waco La Vega’s power spread has run over opponents while the Pirates’ defense has delivered equally punishing physicality on the other side of the ball. Pleasant Grove burst on the scene with a Wing-T offense made borderline unstoppable by putting a dynamic passer at the helm, while the Hawks’ defense stormed opposition backfields. Go all the way back to 2014, and you had Navasota and Gilmer making just enough stops for their explosive, big-play offenses to edge out their foes.

One big slice of Texas has taken over 4A, but the teams within it are winning in their own ways. The football played in 4A offers the most variety game-to-game of any classification in the state, and the coaches within it keep finding new (and old) ways to win football games.



Decatur quarterback Roman Fuller believes in fireworks as a means to win football games. As a junior last season, he and his arm rallied the Eagles from a 2-5 start to win six of their next eight games en route to a state semifinal appearance. After a season where he threw for 4,652 yards and 45 touchdowns, he’s back for a senior bow and he is surrounded by most of the same skill players, headlined by do-it-all running back A.J. Martinez. District bunkmates Springtown (led by one of the state’s most underrated running backs in Cameron Rickett) and Wichita Falls Hirschi will be two of Decatur’s biggest challengers for the Region I crown, and Dumas, Andrews and Canyon will also have a say.

Defending champions Waco La Vega get a second straight season in Region II, and while they don’t mind it, it’s hard to believe anyone else is excited about it. Those hoping graduation decimated the Pirates’ championship core will be disappointed to find out most of the skill players and offensive line are back with reinforcements at the ready (incumbent quarterback Ara Rauls is already battling Landry Kinne for the starting job). And while the defense features some new faces, Texas Football isn’t expecting a dropoff, and neither is head coach Don Hyde, who expects little to change, especially at the point of contact.

“I don’t think physicality will be an issue. Our brand of football from seventh grade up is physical,” Hyde said. “The question mark will be in-game experience and making adjustments, and doing what we ask of them from a defensive standpoint. There will be some growing pains, but we’re ready for that.”

Will Argyle be ready? The Eagles edged out the Pirates in pre-district play last year before falling to them in the playoff clash 12 weeks later. Todd Rodgers’ squad has a stellar quarterback at the helm yet again in Bo Hogeboom (3,366 yards, 44 TDs passing), but will the defense make enough strides to find a few more stops late in the postseason? It’s hardly a two-team region, either. In fact, it’s one of the deepest with Paris on the rise, Celina resurgent, Kennedale climbing back into the picture, and teams like Stephenville, Melissa (led by our preseason offensive player of the year Brendon Lewis), Wilmer-Hutchins and China Spring all capable of ruining a season on the right night and making a playoff run of their own.

The East Texas vipers nest that is Region III gets no easier this year. Carthage, of course, leads the way yet again. The Bulldogs’ core of OL Ty’Kieast Crawford, WR Kelvontay Dixon and LB Rayvon Ingram knows how to win, and if a quarterback emerges, don’t expect Scott Surratt’s team to miss much of a beat. Midlothian Heritage, Henderson and Kilgore lost as much or more than what they’re returning, but these are programs that only reload. Navasota looks like it may be turning things around under head coach Casey Dacus, and watch out for Van and Splendora, two teams that had double-digit wins in 2018 and look poised to do it again.

Liberty Hill returns just seven starters from last year’s state finalist squad, but Jefferson Walker knows how to coach ‘em up, as evidenced by our coaches poll, which declared him one of the most underrated in the state. Expect the Panthers to be right back in the fight for the Region IV crown, with game challenges from the best Lampasas squad in years, and La Vernia and West Columbia teams that may take it to another level. But perhaps the best chance for a regional upset lies in the hands of Sealy, which lost to Liberty Hill in last year’s regional semifinals, but has been on an upward trajectory ever since Shane Mobley became head coach following the 2016 season.

“My hat’s off to Liberty Hill. They’re very talented and I think we gave it everything we had,” Sealy head coach Shane Mobley said.

The Tigers lost their bell cows in quarterback Garret Zaskoda and running back Ivan Bolden, but nearly everyone else is back, especially on defense. Bottom line: they’ll be good, and they’ve come a long way since the 3-7 season before Mobley was hired. It doesn’t come easy, though.

“Our district isn’t the district of doom like Carthage and Henderson…they’re a league of their own every year. But our district is tough. We’re battling with El Campo, Coach Giles has done a great job over at Needville, and Bay City and Brazosport, they just have so much talent. We lost Stafford but got Fulshear, and they’re pushing 5A numbers. It’s a dogfight, for sure, every week,” Mobley said. “Then in the playoffs, you’ve got Liberty Hill, Boerne was a battle  for us, La Vernia has a great program…there’s a lot of great football in our region. You look across the state at the La Vegas and Argyles, it’s just great to have Sealy in that conversation again.”



Graham looks to have a pretty good quarterback in junior Hunter Lanham, and when the Steers have a good quarterback, they’ve got a shot at the Region I crown. After a rocky start last season as a sophomore, Lanham finished with 2,802 yards and 29 touchdowns through the air. Even better for Graham, he’s joined again by running back Daniel Gilbertson, who’s a threat from any spot on the field.

But the landscape has changed in recent years, as Joe Cluley’s Estacado Matadors have become a fixture in the battle for the region crown, Midland Greenwood makes its presence felt, and – perhaps you heard – Iowa Park is the defending region champion after last year’s dream run to the state semifinals. If the Hawks can find a running back, Aubrey Sims’ bunch will be ready to defend their crown.

Whoever emerges from the west will have their hands full, though. Pleasant Grove is Texas Football’s preseason No. 1 team and it’s not hard to see why. The Hawks looked to be a year early last season and weren’t even at full strength in the title game with top recruit DE Landon Jackson out with a knee injury. Now, led by three-year starter Ben Harmon at quarterback with the majority of last year’s state finalist squad back, Region II is going to have its hands full trying to stop Josh Gibson’s Hawks. That includes a Waco Connally squad that has plenty of star power of its own with RB Jay’Veon Sunday, OL Trent Pullen and CB Korie Black. Oh, and Gilmer, Lorena and Pittsburg – you know, teams that are among the best every year in Texas. The region is flat-out loaded.

It wasn’t long ago that West Orange-Stark might as well be penciled in as the Region III champion before a single football was snapped. The Mustangs are still a favorite, but if ever there were a year for Silsbee or Jasper to make a run, this is it.

“I think Silsbee is a sleeper,” Jasper head coach Darrell Barbay said. “I think they’re as good and as athletic as anybody.”

To say nothing of those Mustangs.

“West Orange, the thing about them is just tradition,” Barbay said. “They’re gonna play hard no matter what and if you’re gonna beat them, you’re gonna have to play four quarters.”

Barbay’s Bulldogs may be in the best position to make a run, though. A whopping 17 starters return from a 12-win team, led by one of the state’s most dynamic stars in Montavien Hunt (1,500 yards, 20 TDs rushing).

“The thing about [Hunt] is you can walk in the building, and you wouldn’t even recognize him,” Barbay said. “He’s a real quiet, low-key, takes care of business in the classroom. Has never had a referral or been in trouble. When you don’t have to worry about your best player, you’re going to have a good football team because the rest of them will follow.”

As Hunt goes, so go the Bulldogs. Injuries slowed he and his teammates in the playoffs last year, so if they stay healthy in 2019, watch out.

“Offensively, we’ve got some kids that can go. Two or three that can break it anytime. We’ve got some DI linemen type kids,” Barbay said. “We’re blessed to have great talent and great kids and great depth.”

Down in Region IV, the defending state champions are undergoing a hefty rebuild with just a handful of starters returning, and state title game hero Jordan Whittington off to the 40 Acres in Austin. Don’t expect Cuero to fall off, though. The Gobblers will always be in the mix for the region crown and beyond, and expect Geronimo Navarro, Wimberley and Rockport-Fulton to jockey for position, along with a steadily climbing Raymondville squad from down south.

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