While volleyball, tennis and cross country started their seasons this past Tuesday, the UIL prevents high school football practices from beginning until the first Monday of August — which is only hours away.
The later start to the season has local teams chomping at the bit even more so than usual to finally hit the field. Practices begin Monday, the first scrimmages will be held the weekend of Aug. 17-19, the final scrimmages are set for the weekend of Aug. 24-26 and opening night is Sept. 1 for most teams in the area.
With the long-awaited arrival of football season, here are a few questions local teams will begin to answer as they attempt to reach AT&T Stadium in Arlington Dec. 20-23 to play for state championships.
• How will the Brownwood Lions
fare in head coach Kyle Maxfield’s
The Lions posted a 6-4 record in 2016, earning a bi-district championship and reaching the second round of the playoffs. A homecoming lighting storm and two byes limited Brownwood to a mere eight regular season games, which Maxfield felt put the Lions at a slight disadvantage heading into the postseason.
Weather permitting, the Lions will be back to the traditional 10-game format with the addition of Alvin Shadow Creek. However, the schedule still presents a challenge.
Prior to the Oct. 20 home date against Stephenville, the Lions will play just once, including scrimmages, at Gordon Wood Stadium — the Sept. 8 homecoming game against Graham. Following scrimmages at Burnet and Wichita Falls Rider, the Lions open the season against Canyon at Wolfforth Frenship. The home opener is then followed by dates at Liberty Hill and Alvarado and a neutral site tilt with Giddings in Temple before the District 3-4A Division I opener at Abilene Wylie.
The Lions do close with three of the final four at home — Stephenville, Shadow Creek and Snyder — with a trip to Big Spring occurring the next-to-last week of the regular season.
Each of Brownwood’s first four games last season was decided on the final snap, and while that is unlikely to happen again, the Lions will still receive significant tests throughout the schedule in preparation for a postseason run.
Brownwood returns seven offensive and four defensive starters from last season’s squad.
• Will the Early Longhorns and Bangs Dragons make playoff pushes?
The Longhorns and Dragons combined for a total of two wins last year — both by Bangs, including a victory over Early in the season opener. Both teams are again predicted to finish at the bottom of their respective districts.
Third-year head coaches Jim Bird and Blake Sandford are looking to turn around the recent fortunes of both programs, and the Longhorns and Dragons again meet in the season opener where the winner of the contest could receive a much-needed jumpstart to the season.
Sandford touted the play of the junior varsity squad in 2016 and having several members join the varsity could provide the shot of momentum the Longhorns are craving.
Early remains in the evenly-matched District 3-3A Division I, which also includes Comanche, Clyde, Brady, Merkel and Jim Ned. Comanche was the surprise team last year, vaulting its way to the district championship, and Early is looking to make a similar climb. A playoff berth, which has eluded the Longhorns since 2008, is not out of the realm of possibility as none of the teams in the league are ranked in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine preseason Top 25.
In Bangs, after two pre-district wins and a better overall performance than the year prior, a brutal district schedule got the better of the Dragons. While wins are there for the taking again in pre-district action this year, the District 3-4A Division II gauntlet of Coleman, Tolar, Cisco, Eastland and Dublin awaits. The Dragons will likely need to pull of some upsets to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
• Will the Zephyr Bulldogs continue their string of deep playoff runs?
Following trips to the state semifinals and state quarterfinals the last two seasons, the Bulldogs enter 2017 ranked No. 5 in Class A Division I by DCTF.
Head coach Shannon Williams returns four starters on each side of the ball from a 10-3 team that lost to District 10-A rival Jonesboro in the regional finals. The Bulldogs will be missing workhorse Bishop Norman, who is off to NCAA Division III national champion Mary Hardin-Baylor, but Williams relied on several players early in the season in 2016 who became more valuable as the season progressed.
Despite returning just two offensive starters, Jonesboro is ranked No. 4 in Class A Division I by DCTF, but not favored to win the district. May — which was defeated by Zephyr in the playoffs last year — and Bryson are expected to be the other favorites out of Region III.
• Will the May Tigers make another run at Arlington?
The Tigers posted a 10-0 record in the regular season and won their bi-district playoff game over Bryson before being upended by Zephyr in the second round of the playoffs.
May is picked to repeat as District 11-A Division I champions over Gordon, Gorman and Lingleville. An undefeated regular season could be a taller task in 2017, but the Tigers would prefer a much lengthier playoff run.
Head coach Craig Steele welcomes back four offensive and three defensive starters from last year’s 11-1 squad, as May looks to return to AT&T Stadium in Arlington for the first time since the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Outside of district, Zephyr, Bryson and reigning state runner-up Jonesboro — all ranked in the Top 10 — could all be waiting in the playoffs. In May’s 2013 state run, however, the Tigers were not ranked, nor picked to even reach the postseason.
• Will the Blanket Tigers find their way back to the postseason?
A string of four consecutive postseason appearances ended for the Tigers in 2016, but they’re looking to begin another streak with a new head coach in charge.
Brent Williamson takes over for Tyler Tabor and inherits a 6-4 squad with four starters back on each side of the ball. The problem for the Tigers is they reside in District 10-A Division I, which also houses Top 5 teams Zephyr and Jonesboro.
Both the Bulldogs and Eagles have suffered key losses to graduation, however, so the Tigers appear to a have a greater opportunity to steal one of the playoff spots from the two district favorites than they did a year ago.
As is always the case with six-man football, the health of all three teams in the District 10 mix could play a crucial role when the league slate begins in late October.
• Will the Brookesmith Mustangs make the playoffs a second year in a row?
The Mustangs reached the postseason for the first time since 2006 a year ago, finishing second in District 12-A Division II.
Brookesmith collected five regular season victories last year after winning a total of two games the previous four seasons, and four offensive and three defensive starters are back in 2017.
Reigning district champion Panther Creek is again the favorite, but Brookesmith, Mullin, Sidney and Gustine will likely be evenly-matched again this year. DCTF gives the second-place nod to Sidney, which is coming off an 0-9 campaign. However, the Mustangs weren’t projected to make the playoffs last season, either.
• Will the Richland Springs Coyotes three-peat and collect their ninth state title?
Preseason favorites to capture the Class A Division II state championship, the Coyotes are looking to make a return trip to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, where they defeated Balmorhea for their eighth state championship last season.
Richland Springs is in the midst of a 29-game win streak that started in 2015 en route to a state championship victory over Follett at Shotwell Stadium in Abilene.
During their run of eight state championships since 2004, the Coyotes recorded an earlier three-peat, claiming titles in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The Coyotes should receive a test in the season opener against Class A Division I No. 1 Happy, but Richland Springs won’t see them again the rest of the season regardless the result. Balmorhea, Milford, Strawn, Turkey Valley, Calvert, Petersburg, Grandfalls-Royalty, Follett and Panther Creek are expected to be Division II state contenders as they round out the preseason Top 10.
Barring injuries, with four starters back on each side of the ball — including the offensive and defensive players of the year — the odds certainly appear to be in Richland Springs’ favor to become the first Texas high school football program to earn nine state championships.