The finish line to the start of high school football season is officially in sight.
That much is clear after the majority of teams throughout the state began practices last week, accelerating preparations for opening week after summer vacation. Amid many a scorching-hot afternoon, local programs have begun finalizing any open positional battles and steadily fortifying their identity in advance of the season’s opening kickoff, and the Metroplex isn’t lacking in noteworthy storylines as practices get underway.
Here’s a look at where various Denton County football teams stand with one week of practice in the books.
Taylor Raglin: Winning the program's first district title and making the postseason for the first time since 2011 wasn't enough for Flower Mound and head coach Brian Basil.
Basil said the Jaguars, who bring back a bevy of returners at the skill positions in their quest to ride the momentum built in 2018 to the school's first postseason victory, have honed in their fall preparation on filling in the gaps that were left behind by the 2019 class. Notable holes exist on the offensive line and in the secondary, but Basil said a few names have stepped up in the trenches, including senior Alex Harden at center, returning starter and junior Nate Adams and senior Caden Wood, who was asked to move from the defensive front to the offensive line.
Now, Basil said, it's about controlling the Jaguars' intensity and expectations with mere weeks to go until they begin their district title defense.
"The message for our team has been that the highest expectations that you have are the ones we put on ourselves. I felt, in 2016 and 2017, we were one game out of the playoffs, and I felt like we left some meat on the bone. ... Last year, putting a gold football on the shelf was a big goal of ours," he said. "But the thing we talked to them about during the offseason is that there's a vision for this program that goes well beyond just making the playoffs."
Matt Welch: After missing out on the playoffs in 2018, the Marauders enter fall practices further ahead than this time a year ago, according to head coach Kevin Atkinson.
Atkinson attributed that to the experience Marcus back for the upcoming season, even though the offense has been without junior starting quarterback Garrett Nussmeier — sidelined by an injury, although Atkinson said his prized signal-caller will begin practicing with the team on Monday. In his place, junior Brayden Canole took reps behind center during the first week of practice and Atkinson noted “the offense didn’t miss a beat.”
Otherwise, the focus early into practices has been working players on both sides of the ball — something the Marauders experimented with during springtime in an effort to better maximize their personnel.
“We’re working a lot of kids both ways right now,” Atkinson said. “It’s a little tough to execute two-way players early in the season, so it’ll be a matter of where we think they’ll help us the most as to whether they major in offense or defense.”
Marcus is also acclimating to a new defensive look after naming Scott Wells as its defensive coordinator. With that comes a change from the Marauders’ customary odd-man front as they adapt to a 4-2-5 scheme under Wells. They’ll do so with one of the area’s top linebacking units in Ethan Barr and Tyler Gainey.
Kevin Reynolds: Even for a program that lost the 6-6A co-MVP Trejan Bridges, head coach Brian Brazil and the Hawks feel as though they are far from rebuild mode. In fact, Hebron touts the most talented roster in the district and will be eyeing the district championship that eluded them one year ago.
It will be an inside-out attack on offense for Hebron, who features one of North Texas’ most dynamic rushing attacks. Sophomore Isaiah Broadway and senior Jaylon Lott are both returning, combining for 1,403 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in the 2018 campaign. Not to mention senior quarterback Carson Harris, who logged 1,093 rushing yards of his own with 14 touchdowns on the ground in his time under center.
While the rushing contingent gave opposing defenses fits last year, Brazil believes Lott and Broadway haven’t even scratched the surface of what they can be. Both backs played most of 2018 with shoulder injuries and, after offseason surgery, they are fresh to hit the ground running.
This offense is by no means one dimensional, with an embarrassment of riches on the outside. John Paul II transfer Jaddai Henry, Donovan Tubbs and Colton Bradford will all be nightmare scenarios for defenses forced to play one-on-one matchups.
Defensively, the Hawks return nine of 11 starters from last year. A crew that is headlined by Michigan State commit Darius Snow, Brazil could talk about the list of Division I prospects for hours. Fast and talented, opposing coaches will be hard-pressed to find weaknesses on the roster.
Taylor Raglin: There will be a new Cowboy under center for Coppell this season.
With 2018 quarterback Drew Cerniglia now enrolled at Allen, the transfer cycle held a bit of give-and-take for the Cowboys heading into 2019. Though Cerniglia is out, 2018 Jesuit quarterback and senior Kevin Shuman joined the Cowboys in the offseason and figures to be the program's No. 1 signal-caller.
Shuman threw for 1,287 yards and 13 scores against six interceptions in 2018, tacking on 204 rushing yards and a lone score on the ground. He'll benefit from the potential coming-out party of sophomore Anthony Black out wide and by Jason Nwgu assuming the lead role in the backfield.
Still, the going will be tough for the Cowboys in their quest to make the postseason for the eighth consecutive season, as they'll have to fill the shoes of four all-district offensive linemen, their four leading rushers and their top five receivers.
Matt Welch: For the first time since 2008, the Farmers are entering the season fresh off a playoff appearance and that culture change has been evident for head coach Michael Odle as he embarks on his third season at the helm.
Lewisville’s biggest positional battles early in camp are at quarterback, offensive line and secondary — areas hit hard by graduation in the wake of the program’s 9-3 campaign in 2018.
Atkinson said juniors Landon Webster, Eric Palomo and Taylen Green, a transfer from Allen, have been vying for the job under center, with the coach expected to name a starting quarterback following this week’s scrimmage against The Colony — likely retaining two quarterbacks on varsity with the third starting for Lewisville’s junior-varsity team.
Despite the loss of District 6-6A Defensive Player of the Year Kadren Johnson, Atkinson likes what he has within the front seven, a unit anchored by all-state defensive tackle Khristian Versey. It’s in the defensive backfield where all four starting spots, as well as the backups for each position, remain undecided with the beginning of the season less than two weeks away.
Kevin Reynolds: The Cougars will be looking to replicate catching lighting in a bottle as they did in 2018. The outright district champions of 5-5A Division I a year ago, a title that has only been earned two times in program history, head coach Rudy Rangel understands 2019 will be all about continuing momentum.
This lofty goal will certainly be attainable as Rangel believes this is his most talented roster since he arrived at the school. The Cougars return their Swiss-army knife and district MVP Myles Price for his senior year. Also on the list of Division I commits coming back for their final year are Keith Miller and Christian Gonzalez.
With people like Miller, Price and Gonzalez in the locker room, it is easy to be overlooked. However, Mikey Harrington, the three-year starting quarterback heading into his senior year, may be poised for his biggest season yet. Rangel indicated that some changes in the offense will put more receivers in space and allow Harrington to make big plays through the air. The Cougars will also be looking for their signal-caller to make a larger impact on the ground and be an instrumental part in all facets of the offense.
Defensively, the program has no shortage of talent. While Marcus Moore, Price and Gonzalez will anchor the team on that side of the ball, Rangel is looking forward to a fresh face at safety.
Prestonwood Christian transfer Shafiq Taylor will be a sophomore starter for Rangel in the secondary. While the coach expects some growing pains, Taylor will add needed athletic versatility that will solidify the unit.