The 2018-19 high school sports year was rife with new challenges for Allen, Plano ISD and McKinney ISD, which made the move to District 9-6A and welcomed Prosper and Jesuit along for the ride. The result was another year of quality athletics from several of the most prominent programs in the state.
Throughout the summer, Star Local Media will reflect on the year that was for 9-6A’s eight schools while also looking ahead to what lies in store for 2019-20.
With that said, here’s the 10th installment of Six Questions for District 9-6A.
1. What will be the storylines to monitor in 9-6A football this season?
Bryan Murphy: There are plenty. Will Allen be tested in district play after returning just six starters? Was McKinney’s surprise season last year a fluke? Will Prosper be able to make the playoffs again in year No. 2 in Class 6A? Will Plano West win a game? How good will Jesuit senior running back and son of NFL legend Emmitt Smith, E.J. Smith, be?
The questions go on and on, but perhaps the most intriguing thing about 9-6A is not knowing how seeds two through seven will shake out when things are all said and done.
Despite Allen bringing back just one starter on defense, on top of replacing huge names on offense like Theo Wease and Grant Tisdale, there is little doubt that the Eagles will raise the district title at season’s end.
Prosper is expected to be in the playoff mix again but it also would not be a shock if it also narrowly missed the big dance. McKinney appears to be a legitimate playoff contender again with 13 returning starters, while Plano Senior and Jesuit are no slouches either.
Even though Plano East is expected to take a step back in 2019, the Panthers won’t be an easy matchup, and McKinney Boyd should be improved especially after the return of Plae Wyatt and hiring of head coach Joe McBride.
The only things that we may know for sure are which teams will finish first and last, but those middle positions in between might as well be left for chance.
2. Which football team(s) will showcase the top offense and defense in 9-6A?
Matt Welch: Last season, using yards per game, points per game, yards allowed per game and points allowed per game, Allen graded out atop the district in all four categories (I know, I too was surprised).
The Eagles are a likely bet to sport either 9-6A’s top offense or defense — and possibly both — when all is said and done, even with more personnel question marks than usual. Despite breaking in a brand-new offensive line this season, Allen is still loaded at the skill positions between senior quarterback Raylen Sharpe (committed to SMU), senior running back Celdon Manning (1,201 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns as a junior) and junior receivers Bryson and Blaine Green (both have double-digit Power Five offers), and should continue to pile up points.
Things are less tenured on defense, where senior linebacker Jaden Healy is the only returning starter, but replacing a large graduating class is nothing new for defensive coordinator Cory Cain and his staff. What the Eagles lack in top-of-the-depth-chart experience, they make up for in depth with seven defensive returners logging at least 200 snaps last season.
The gap between the Eagles and the rest of 9-6A feels closer on that side of the ball, though. McKinney really came into its own on defense as last season progressed, holding three of its final five opponents in the regular season to 14 points or less, and McKinney Boyd, Jesuit and Prosper all return at least five defensive starters.
3. Which football players will claim the 9-6A passing, rushing and receiving titles this season?
Taylor Raglin: With so much turnover at the quarterback position heading into 2019, it’s difficult to pick against Allen senior Raylen Sharpe. Though it’ll be his first full season under center, he’ll have a solid crop of wideouts to throw to, including junior brothers Bryson and Blaine Green. With so many No. 1 signal-caller spots in flux, Sharpe and the talent surrounding him figure to lift him to the league’s passing title.
Speaking of the Greens, either could take home the honor of most productive receiver in the district, particularly in the case of Bryson – while Blaine missed time in 2018 due to injury, Bryson picked up valuable reps, though either could realistically have the edge.
They’ll be challenged, though, by McKinney Boyd senior Kareem Coleman, who’s likely 9-6A’s best deep threat and should carry a heavy load for the Bronco offense.
Finally, with a bevy of talented backs departing the district, seniors EJ Smith of Jesuit and Trey Jones-Scott of Plano East should vie for the rushing title, though Jones-Scott may have a slight edge. He could carry the ball more often on average than Smith, who’s also heavily involved in the Rangers’ aerial attack.
4. Who are a few potential breakout candidates in 9-6A football this fall?
Kendrick E. Johnson: Two guys who are set up to have potential breakout seasons are Plano junior running back Tylan Hines, who ran for 779 yards and nine touchdowns while playing behind one of the best running backs in Wildcat history in Kyron Cumby, who is now playing at the University of Illinois.
In sparse opportunities last season, Hines showed the potential to be a great ball-control back with the ability to take it to the house on any given play. Given the fact Plano likes to ground and pound, Hines’ all-around development will play a key role into how successful the Wildcats will be this season.
Another breakout player, one who didn’t even play 6A football last season, is McKinney junior defensive lineman John Jones, who might not even be on McKinney opponents’ scouting reports due to playing as a rotation player at McKinney North during his sophomore season.
After a productive summer, Jones has the potential to be a dominant defensive lineman who will surprise opponents.
5. Which 9-6A team is most likely to go undefeated in district play in 2019-20?
Bryan Murphy: Besides the obvious answer of Allen football, which hasn’t lost a district game since 2010, there are a few teams capable of taming the beast that is 9-6A and going undefeated.
The first that comes to mind is Prosper volleyball, which ran the table a year ago en route to a trip to the fifth round in the Lady Eagles first season in 6A. Prosper graduated big-time talent in setter Madi Whitmire and outside hitter Ciera Hecht but still bring back plenty of star power all across the board, but does have another juggernaut lurking in the district in Plano West, which returns the bulk of its state semifinalist core and could be eying an unbeaten run of their own during the 9-6A schedule.
West softball was the only other program to go undefeated in district action last season, but repeating that feat will be no easy task without the services of District MVP Tatum Boyd, who is off to play at Stanford next year.
6. What is one thing each of us are looking forward to most about 9-6A athletics in 2019-20?
Matt Welch: Normally, I’ll default to something on the basketball court — and to be fair, I think the Allen boys team is going to be really fun to watch this season — but there’s something about the upcoming football season in 9-6A that feels different from years past.
It feels like there are more questions than usual surrounding these eight programs — yes, including Allen — and part of what makes this job fun for me is that element of the unknown and the process of uncovering the answers. Watching how this district shakes out should be fascinating.
Bryan Murphy: Last year, Prosper proved its worth in the district and made the playoffs in all of the standings-based sports, and seeing if it can achieve that again will be something to keep an eye on.
Not only that, but Prosper was dominant in most sports, including girls basketball, volleyball, softball and baseball, and it will be exciting to see what these programs can do in the second installment in the district.
Kendrick E. Johnson: I’m excited to see how many McKinney ISD schools make the playoffs and how many playoff games they will win. I feel strongly that McKinney or Boyd will make the playoffs in all eight bracket sports this season. When things are finally done, I’ll be highly shocked if at least one MISD team doesn’t make it to the regional portion of their particular sport.
Taylor Raglin: Overall, the parity across many sports intrigues me, though the action on the diamond continues to be my most anticipated season. With a team that made a run all the way to the state tournament last season in McKinney Boyd and several other potential state powers, it figures to be another year with a thrilling race for a district title and deep postseason runs.