The 2019 high school football season kicks off tonight and includes a pair of openers for Plano East and Plano West, who begin their campaigns on the road.
Fans of Plano Senior and Allen won’t have their appetites satisfied until Friday — or Saturday, for all Lovejoy fans — and here’s a look at what’s on tap for all four programs to begin their respective seasons.
Cedar Hill at Allen
Friday, 7 p.m. at Eagle Stadium
Matt Welch: For the second time in three years, the Eagles and Longhorns kick off the season against each other, headlining the 20th annual Tom Landry Classic. It’s a stage Allen is all too familiar with, having played in the event 13 times — tallying a 12-1 record, including three wins over Cedar Hill.
“A lot of credit goes to (Tom Landry Classic executive director) Kris Cumnock for continuing the Tom Landry Classic and honoring a great legend,” said Terry Gambill, Allen head coach. “Coach Landry played high school football in Texas and it’s a great opportunity to play in such a big event. They’ve raised over $1 million in scholarships for young people … and those sponsors have been able to help families and kids further their education. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Gambill lauded the Longhorns’ athleticism and big-play ability, both of which were central to the team’s 9-2 run last season. Cedar Hill totaled 20 touchdowns of at least 30 yards in 2018 and bring back seven members of that offense, led by all-purpose Texas Tech pledge Quin Bright, offensive lineman and LSU commit Courtland Ford and running back Christian Hallmon.
Cedar Hill will be breaking in a new quarterback in Kaidon Salter, a dual-threat passer who led Bishop Lynch to a state runner-up finish at the private school level last season.
The unit’s explosiveness will test a young Allen defense, which returns only one starter (senior linebacker Jaden Healy), with Gambill stressing the need to limit mental busts in coverage and tackling to limit the Longhorns’ potency.
One of the more interesting back-and-forths throughout the contest will be between Allen’s receiving corps, where juniors Bryson and Blaine Green plus senior Darrion Sherfield line up opposite a Cedar Hill secondary clad in college prospects, including Brett Lynch, Kevin Young and Jalon Peoples.
“I’m excited to see where we’re at as a football team. That’s what’s neat about your first football game — finding out where you’re at in all phases of the game,” Gambill said. It takes a lot of focus and discipline. If you’re going to play well in that first game, you have to be a very focused football team.”
Matt’s Pick: Allen by 8
Plano Senior at Hebron
Friday, 7 p.m. at Clark Stadium
Matt Welch: Friday marks the 12th consecutive meeting between the Wildcats and Hawks — only Plano East, Plano West and Allen have appeared on Plano’s schedule every year over that same span. Plano holds a 6-5 edge and recent installments of the rivalry have backed up its closely contested nature, with the past two meetings with Hebron decided by one point.
“I’ve always liked playing them. They’re such a disciplined team and it’s always been a good game. I feel like our kids get better when we play a team like that,” said Jaydon McCullough, Plano head coach.
McCullough expects Friday to be no different, with Hebron sporting a well-rounded roster that helped spearhead a three-round playoff run last season. One element absent from last year’s meeting was Hawks quarterback Carson Harris, who despite missing that matchup, still wound up accumulating 2,540 yards of offense and 29 touchdowns.
Harris joined by running backs Jaylon Lott and Isaiah Broadway, and all eyes will be on how the Hawks redistribute their offensive workload following the graduation of district MVP Trejan Bridges, who accounted for 45.6% of the Hawks’ receptions last season.
Plano has its own dynamic backfield in junior Tylan Hines and senior Cody Crist opposite a balanced Hebron defense led by safety Darius Snow and linebacker Carter Norrie.
An area to monitor will be in the trenches, where Plano figures to be particularly young this season.
Matt’s Pick: Hebron by 13
Plano West at Frisco Reedy
Tonight, 7 p.m. at Toyota Stadium
Taylor Raglin: While the Wolves scrimmaged Coppell last week, this will be head coach Tyler Soukup's first chance to see his 2019 group suit up against someone else with something on the line. Last season, a dominant Reedy team rolled West, 46-14, in another season-opening bout, and the final result likely won't look much different this time around. Despite losing some key pieces, the Lions have reloaded well, including picking up junior quarterback Jalen Kitna by way of transfer, and they should be a force once again. The goalposts have moved for the Wolves, however — while it's difficult to expect a victory, fans on the West side will be looking for a more competitive group and for steps to be taken toward not only that eventual snapping of a 26-game losing streak, but a return to relevance.
To that end, whichever quarterback gets the final starting nod for West will need to show promise in Soukup's more pass-heavy offense and in navigating a stout Reedy secondary that's joined by all-around star Will Harbour in the front seven. The Wolves will be without prolific pass-rusher Shemar Pearl, lost to graduation, and will need to continue to break in a largely new defensive unit.
If the Wolves are going to hang in this contest at all, the offense, including wideouts Tavarius Garland and Cole Carter and potential lead back Jacob Stephens, will have to quickly show it can put up crooked numbers.
Overall, though, expect this one to go the way of last season's matchup.
Taylor's Pick: Reedy by 28
Plano East at Hurst L.D. Bell
Tonight, 7 p.m. at Pennington Field
Taylor Raglin: The high-flying Panthers whipped L.D. Bell, 42-14, to open the 2018 season, though this year's matchup will take on a different look entirely.
An East defense that's been constantly praised by head coach Joey McCullough, including for its overall body of work in last week's scrimmage against Highland Park, will have a unique task in the Blue Raiders, who switched to a flexbone offense prior to the 2019 campaign.
That triple-option look has been drilled by the Panthers throughout fall camp, but the program will still need a K'Von Hamilton-led front seven to stay within its assignments to control the opposing rushing attack. The Blue Raiders have a few threats out wide, but will predicate everything they do on their ability to be successful on the turf.
On offense, fans on the East side can expect the official debut of a much heavier, ball-control offense from the Panthers, who will utilize both senior Ryan Foust and junior Dylan Hayden under center. McCullough liked how both ran the football against the Scots, though the East attack will filter through senior back Trey Jones-Scott and his ability to take over a game on the ground.
All in all, the Blue Raiders could provide a more competitive effort than they did a season ago, particularly with neither team appearing like a world-beater capable of 40-to-50-point nights. Still, East's defensive unit should be improved this fall, and that will likely be enough to get the Panthers' campaign off on the right foot.
Lovejoy vs. Colleyville Heritage
Saturday, 7 p.m. at Allen's Eagle Stadium
Taylor Raglin: The Leopards will once again open their regular season under the lights at Allen's Eagle Stadium as part of the Tom Landry Classic, and they'll once again line up across from a team called Heritage.
Instead of Frisco Heritage, though, the Leopards will reckon with Colleyville Heritage, a perennially solid program that inhabits a stout District 4-5A Division I.
It will be Lovejoy's first look at junior and multi-sport athlete Ralph Rucker as the day No. 1 starter under center, as he'll take over for alum Carson Collins and bring a dual-threat nature to the Lovejoy attack. That offensive effort will likely utilize a by-committee approach in the backfield and should be typically strong out wide, but the Leopards will have to contend with a Panther unit of stoppers that brought back eight starters from a postseason team a year ago.
On defense, Lovejoy's defensive front will have to deal with 6-foot-6-inch Baylor commit Gavin Byers, whose size and ability have pegged him as a Division I prospect on the offensive line. Senior Quinn McDermott and the Lovejoy secondary will also have to be engaged, as head coach Todd Ford highlighted Heritage's vertical, big-play ability.
All told, the teams should provide one of the more competitive matchups of the opening week of action, though Rucker's athleticism and a stable of impactful veteran leaders on both sides of the ball should help mitigate both losses to graduation and potential nerves and lift the Leopards to the opening-night victory.
Taylor's Pick: Lovejoy by 7