Pandemic can’t sack gridiron dreams

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Marcus and Flower Mound will face off at the 21st annual Mound Showdown on October 23rd. (Photo by Joe Lorenzini)

The 2020 football season is easily the strangest of my lifetime, with the cloud of COVID-19 still looming and the start of play for some schools delayed until late this month.

Yet still we hope.

We hope that the season will go on; we hope that players will stay safe and be responsible, and coaches will be diligent in monitoring their player’s well-being, while keeping themselves safe and protected at the same time.

As usual, southern Denton County will present some of the strongest football talent in the state this season, and it starts with the Argyle Eagles.

Argyle finished last season with a record of 13-1 and reached the regional finals before coming up short against Waco La Vega.

Coach Todd Rodgers said he is even more optimistic about this year’s team.

“We had a great year last year, and I believe we have a team that can surpass last year’s achievement,” Rodgers said

The Eagles return 14 starters this season (7 on offense and 7 on defense), after wrapping up an undefeated district championship season in 2019.

Players to watch for the Eagles include Tito Byce (815 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns), Jack Tucker, Jasper Lott, Ty Johnson, Davis Elsey, Caleb Murdock, Zach Stewart, Blake Spence, Sheriden Wilson, Knox Scoggins, Cole Kirkpatrick (1,695 receiving yards, 29 touchdowns) and Will Ramsey.

Rodgers said his team “must stay healthy” to improve upon last year’s record, and said while the Coronavirus has thrown a wrench into the plans, his coaches and players are adjusting.

“Coaches are always looking for new ways to make the game safer and now we are mitigating risk from a virus while practicing football,” Rodgers said. “We have face coverings in the helmets, neck buffs to cover our face while idle in practice and much more sanitation of equipment are just a few examples.”

Melissa and Paris should be the Eagles toughest opponents in district.

The Argyle Eagles opened the season with a bang on August 28, defeating Decatur 56-9. (Photo by Katie Ray)

Down the road at Liberty Christian, the Warriors will try to rebound from a 3-8 season in 2019 with a total of nine returning starters (5 on offense, 4 on defense) to help lead the way.

Quarterback Daniel Greek (1,900 yards, 9 touchdowns, Mississippi State) will be a key to the success the Warriors are trying to achieve in 2020, and running back Tye Strickland (583 yards) presents a threat for Liberty out of the backfield.

Dallas Parish Episcopal and John Paul II will likely be the two best teams in TAPPS I1 this season.

“A solid postseason run is usually built on improving each and every day,” coach Steven Greek said. “The programs that are concerned about making today a masterpiece understand there are no guarantees in life or sports…make today great.

“When we can stay together, stay healthy, put in the work, and improve every day – and we stack enough of those days one on top of the next – we can begin to become the team we need to become.  Staying united as a team is key in winning championships.”

Up in Denton, the Guyer squad is heading into the 2020 season with one thing on its collective mind—redemption.

The Wildcats reached the state championship game in 2019, but lost to Austin Westlake following an injury to starting quarterback Eli Stowers on the first series of the game.

First-year coach Rodney Webb said he is excited to make another run at a state championship at Guyer, with “a bunch of momentum” and several key players back from the 2019 team.

“We feel like we have all the pieces to the puzzle,” Webb said. “We just have to make them fit.”

The Wildcats return nine starters, including Stowers (2,969 passing yards, 36 touchdown passes; 1165 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns),  Knox Boyd, Gabe Blair,  Cooper Lanz (80 tackles, 7 sacks), Dotun Olepikun, Jordan Eubanks, Jaden Fugett, Darious Goodloe and Deuce Harmon (45 tackles, 3 INT’s).

Webb said this year has just been a matter of rolling with the flow and to make another deep run, it will take one thing in particular.

“We feel confident if we can avoid attrition through injury or illness, we have a good shot to get back to the title game,” Webb said.

Guyer’s most difficult district opponent will likely be Allen.

Flower Mound quarterback Blake Short holds up the school’s first bi-district championship trophy on Nov. 15, 2019. (Photo by Joe Lorenzini)

Over at Flower Mound High School, the Jaguars were hit hard by graduation on the offensive side of the ball, losing nine offensive starters including three-year starting quarterback Blake Short

Coach Brian Basil believes his team will be competitive this season, however, and said to repeat upon the kind of success his team enjoyed last season, it will take a few things.

“We will need to have several young players step up and fill big shoes from our seniors who graduated,” Basil said. “Nick Evers and Parker Clark will compete for the starting QB job.  They are both dynamic playmakers who we are extremely excited about.”

Players to watch include Stone Eby (SMU), Nate Adams (multiple Div. I offers), Colton Vatne (64 tackles, 13 TFL, 4 sacks), Josh Johnson (62 tackles, 1 INT) and Bert Auburn (Special Teams Player of the Year in 2019).

Flower Mound finished 8-4 last season and reached of the area round of the playoffs.

Basil said the COVID-19 outbreak has affected his preparation and added that his players and coaches are taking the necessary precautions to be as safe as possible.

“Not having a full offseason to develop our players was difficult,” Basil said. “We were grateful for the opportunity to have a strength and conditioning program this summer in order to get our players caught up.  We have had many protocols in place that involve regularly cleaning equipment between every lifter and maintaining proper physical distancing.”

Flower Mound’s toughest district opponents will likely be Marcus and Hebron.

Across town at Marcus, the Marauders had the third best season in school history in 2019, winning a district championship and advancing to the regional quarterfinals.

Coach Kevin Atkinson said to pick up where it left off in 2019 his team is going to have build momentum the right way.

“We are going to have to be really good at overcoming what COVID-19 brings us,” Atkinson said. “We are going to need to execute in all three phases of the game and improve each week.  We don’t want to peak too early.”

Key returners for the Marauders include Garrett Nussmeier (3,788 yards passing, 38 touchdowns),  J. Mike Sturdivant (1,125 yards receiving, 10 touchdowns), Dallas Dudley, (665 yards receiving, 5 touchdowns) Tyler Schott, Christian Espinoza (4 INT), Dylan Smith, Hunter Sanders (42 tackles, 5 sacks),  Ty Strauss,  Tyler Gainey,  Ty Johnson, Zach Ohlemier and Zach Morris.

Atkinson said he expects to have his hands full with most of his district opponents this season.

“There is not one easy win on our schedule,” Atkinson said. “With the addition to the Plano Schools, it’s going to make 6-6A very interesting.  The LISD games with Hebron, Flower Mound and LHS will also be very noteworthy.”

For Coram Deo Academy, a coaching overhaul is the biggest change for a Lions program that finished 2-2 in district last year, with nine new coaches, including head coach Sean Riley.

“This is my first year at Coram Deo,” Riley said. “We are coming together as team stronger than ever. We have a coaching staff with extensive collegiate coaching experience as well as several former pro football players.”

Riley faces the double hardship of being a first-year coach at Coram Deo and having to deal with the pandemic, but he feels the team will be ready when the season starts.

“It has been difficult and each day provides a new challenge,” Riley said. “I spoke to every student and parent via web conferencing as well as held meetings and training sessions via Zoom. Only returning two coaches (Defensive Coordinator and Offensive Line Coach), we had to have a lot of meetings so when the ‘return to play’ was given, we would be prepared.”

Jadon Scarlett (108 tackles, 15 sacks; offers from Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Ohio, and SFA), twin brothers seniors WR/DB Zach and Josh Ledbetter (multiple offers), Peyton Inderlied (1,955 yards passing, 16 touchdowns; 642 yards rushing, 8 touchdowns), Jack Herrington, Logan Conklin (50 tackles, 4 TFL), Jackson Corley, Aidan Saucedo and Nick Jarvis are the Lions players to watch this season.

Coram Deo’s toughest district opponent in 2020 should be Grapevine Faith.

At Northwest High School, the Texans move into a tougher district this season following a 6-0 mark against district opponents in 2019 and an appearance in the bi-district round of the playoffs.

Kyndell Simms (1,152 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) will help lead the way offensively, and keep an eye on sophomore quarterback Jacob Strong.

Carson Campbell (48 tackles, 2 sacks) and Isaac Bohls (39 tackles, 2 INT’s) will lead the way defensively.

Look for Abilene Cooper and Azle to be Northwest’s toughest district opponents.

See local high school football schedules here.

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