Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Young talent ready to shine under Friday night lights

As Friday Night football looms just over the horizon, local programs are preparing for what will likely prove to be an interesting season on the gridiron.

The schools of southern Denton County fared well last season once again, and there is a lot of strong returning talent in 2023.

Coaching staffs are taking every precaution to ensure that athletes remain safe and healthy as the summer swelters on, and though they compete in some of the stronger districts in the state, area schools have proven to be perennial playoff contenders with a few likely to challenge for a state title.

The Argyle Eagles made their 5A debut last season with a bang, and coach Todd Rodgers said he could not have asked for a whole lot more from his players.

“Our first year in 5A went very well,” Rodgers said. “Our senior class was very experienced and they were the catalyst to our success. Few in the state of Texas thought we would make it to the state semifinals and face eventual state champion South Oak Cliff.”

But Argyle did just that

The Eagles will field a much younger squad this season, with the team taking a hit by graduation, but Rodgers is confident in the younger guys moving up.

“They are talented players, but most have minimal varsity experience,” Rodgers said.

Argyle will return most of their offense, including the entire offensive line (Weston Chaney, Tyler Roberts, Thor Johansson, Chansyn Bowen, Carter Wilson), along with quarterback John Gailey, tight end Hunter McFaul and receivers Will Hodson, Lane Stewart, Jake Krekeler, Will Krzysiak and several others.

“Our offensive unit will have to carry our team early in the season for our defense to mature and gain some experience,” Rodgers said.

Some of the stronger returners on the defensive side of the ball include linebackers Bud Petter and Devon Owen, and defensive backs Micah Roberts and Colton Roquemore, all of which Rodgers said “have legitimate varsity experience.”

Look for Frisco Emerson to present the biggest challenge to Argyle in district this season.

Over at Liberty Christian, the Warriors are coming off a resurgent 2022 season under the direction of coach Jason Witten and LCS fans could be in for even more excitement this season.

The Warriors finished 10-2 last year and went undefeated in district play, and Witten said with the massive turnaround from the 2021 season in which Liberty Christian finished 2-8, the perception of LCS has also changed.

“Coming off last year’s success it is natural to have higher expectations,” Witten said. “With that, you are no longer the underdog. We have to embrace it and be able to perform well.”

To repeat upon that type of success of last season, Witten said the team needs to continue to get better.

“We need a relentless pursuit of continuous improvement,” Witten said. “We took a big jump in 2022. That should give us confidence and hopefully we can continue to build on it.”

Some of the stronger offensive returners for Liberty Christian include receiver Brady Janusek, Quinton Brown and Michael Stump, and center Antonio Simone.

Defensively, look for Janusek, CJ Witten and defensive end Mac Saul to help lead the way for the Warriors

Liberty’s most difficult district opponent this season should be All Saints Catholic, who Witten said are “extremely talented and well-coached.”

Up the road at Guyer, the Wildcats are coming off of a 2022 campaign in which they went 7-0 in district competition and five rounds in the playoffs.

Coach Christopher Heim said 2022 was a special season for him.

“I was extremely fortunate to be a first-year head football coach at a top-level program in the state,” Heim said. “I was so thankful that our entire program from admin to the coaches and players who gave me such unwavering support. It did not hurt that we had a great senior class with exceptional, possibly even generational talent.

“I am excited about this senior class because they were all in their first year of high school when I arrived on campus as an assistant coach. They have grown so much and are poised to have a great year.”

Guyer was also hit pretty hard by graduation, but Heim said he believes he has the players to be a competitive program.

“Several of the guys that became household names in the area for us have graduated and moved on, but in programs like ours, those that move on create opportunities for the next generation of Wildcats,” Heim said. “Each year a team takes shape throughout the spring and summer, and I like where we are right now.”

Stronger returners for the Wildcats include receiver Josiah Martin and offensive tackle Willie Goodacre on offense. Headliners on defense will be cornerback Eli Bowen and nose guard Pelumi Olanipekun.

To make another good run in 2023, Heim said will require some tough sledding.

“We have the talent and tradition to make it to the playoffs, but we also play in one of the toughest districts in the state,” Heim said. “We must stay healthy and take one week at a time once we get into district play. We get everyone’s best shot, but that is exactly the way we want it. That makes it worth the effort that everyone puts into being part of the Guyer program.”

Over in Flower Mound, the Jaguars are looking to rebound from a 3-7 season, and coach Brian Basil attributes that to a tough first half last year.

“We did not get off to a great start last year and it kept us from achieving our season goals,” Basil said. “However we finished strong and showed a lot of perseverance that carried over to the offseason. Our players have built on this and understand how important the little things are that lead to success.”

The Jags will be replacing the bulk of their offensive line in 2023, but Basil said he is optimistic that younger players will step up.

“Other than some fine-tuning of our scheme relating to personnel, we still have our foundation built on playing with tremendous effort and discipline,” Basil said.

Some of the stronger returning players for Flower Mound include receiver Jason Welch, defensive lineman Jake Rumsey, defensive end Landon Hickey, cornerback Mason MacDonald, linebackers Zeke Zwanenburg and Elijah Luneke and defensive end Weston Bicknell.

Basil said to earn a postseason spot, the Jaguars will need contributions from their younger players this coming season.

“We need to have some of our first year varsity players step up and be productive Friday night players for us,” Basil said. “Senior leadership and culture buy-in are critical for success as well.”

The team to beat in District 6-6A this year looks to be the defending district champions, Lewisville.

Across town at Marcus, first-year coach Mike Alexander said he is ready to see what his team can accomplish.

“I am excited to see our guys compete this year as we are learning new schemes on both sides of the ball,” Alexander said.

Alexander’s offensive philosophy is pretty straightforward.

“I am hopeful that this year we will utilize the run game effectively to control the ball and the game.”

Marcus finished 6-5 last season and reached the bi-district round of the playoffs.

The Marauders will look to defensive linemen Matthew Bryant, Will Upshaw and Jace Bardwell, defensive back Drew Trentham, linebacker Brock Golwas, receiver Karic Grennan and offensive lineman Jack Tanner to set the tone this year.

Marcus went 5-2 in district competition in 2022, and Alexander said competing for a playoff spot this coming season will take a strong all-around effort.

“Defensively, we must control the line of scrimmage with our talented front three,” Alexander said. “Offensively, we must take care of the football and run the ball the successfully.”

For Flower Mound’s TAPPS program, last season marked the fourth straight year in a row that Coram Deo Academy earned a playoff berth.

The Lions routinely personify the old Mark Twain quotation that it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

“We are the smallest school in our division and are outnumbered 2 to 1 and sometimes 3 to 1,” coach Dane Johnson said. “I think it says a lot about the kids here being able to compete against the teams they compete against.”

Coram Deo was also hit hard by graduation, however, and Johnson said he will need his younger players to adapt to varsity football quickly.

“Last year’s team was senior-dominated at every position,” Johnson said. “So we are rebuilding this year. We will have young inexperienced kids at key spots.”

Strong returning players for the Lions include receivers Elliott Allen and Garret Inderlied, and Johnson said to make the playoffs, it will take two important things.

“Our young players playing bigger than they are and growing up super-fast,” Johnson said. “Our younger players are very talented, but lack experience.”

Grace Community from Tyler and Grapevine Faith should be Coram Deo’s toughest district opponents this year.

In Justin, Northwest High School finished 6-5 overall and reached the bi-district round of the playoffs.

Coach Billy Poe said 2022 was a good year, and even though they were hoping for a better finish, he was proud of the way his team competed.

“We had some major challenges through the course of the season and our players responded well in every game,” Poe said. “The first round exit from the playoffs was not what we wanted, but our team competed at a high level.

“Our players have a bitter taste in their mouth and want to finish stronger than what we did last year. Offseason went really well and our team is looking forward to this year’s challenges. We know it will be, once again, tough but they are ready for the challenge.”

Poe said the biggest difference between 2022 and this season will be personnel changes.

“We lost several playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and we feel that we have some players that are ready to fill in those shoes,” Poe said. “One of the key offensive players was at the quarterback position and we have a couple of kids that are ready to step up and take the reins.”

Returning for the Texans offensively are 4 out of 5 offensive lineman and running back Ife Durodoye. Defensively, the Texans have a good duo of returning players with Bodie Holden and Parker Dunmead, the two leading tacklers last season.

Poe said clinching a playoff berth with be a tall order this season and will require superb execution.

“We have a very tough district and getting into the playoffs will be tough,” Poe said. “Besides staying healthy, the key for us will be to play smart football and execute at a high-level on a weekly basis. Our defense will be our strong suit and we need to help our offense early in the season.”

Look for Aledo, Denton Ryan, and Burleson Centennial to be Northwest’s toughest opponents in 2023.

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