The end of one chapter gives way to the start of another, and such is the case as teams around the state begin preparations for the 2020-21 school year.
For many, that’ll mean making the move to a new district, and schools like Plano ISD, Lewisville ISD and Coppell are no different. The PISD trio broke away from their longtime rivals in Allen and McKinney and link up with LISD and Coppell in a revamped District 6-6A.
Throughout the summer, Star Local Media will reflect on the year that was for 6-6A’s eight schools while also looking ahead to the district’s storylines and subplots for the 2020-21 school year.
1. What will be the storylines to monitor in 6-6A football this season?
David Wolman: Given the current pandemic, the biggest storyline to monitor this season will be the weekly status of high school football.
High school coaches have been hard at work planning revised schedules for the upcoming season, looking at every potential obstacle -- from a school district that has been pondering the status of the fall sports season, to determining who would replace those opponents from the team's original schedule, or which team is available for a preseason scrimmage.
Another storyline to monitor in 6-6A is the play of district newcomers Plano Senior, Plano East and Plano West.
Plano is under the direction of first-year head coach Todd Ford who enjoyed a successful four-year stint at Lovejoy where he led the Leopards to three playoff consecutive playoff appearances -- highlighted by a combined 15 wins over the past two seasons.
When it comes to determining the race for the district title, everyone is looking to dethrone reigning undefeated 6-6A champion Marcus. That's a tall order, considering the Marauders will have senior quarterback Garrett Nussmeier, an LSU pledge and the district's MVP as a junior, again under center.
2. Which district gets the better of bi-district competition in 2020-21: 5-6A or 6-6A?
Matt Welch: These schools should be plenty familiar with challenging first-round matchups, having squared off against one another in the bi-district round in previous years. Both districts sport a number of well-rounded, pedigree-laden programs that should produce several meetings between teams capable of making runs to the regional tournament.
In 5-6A, playoff berths will be tough to come by with schools like Allen, Guyer and Prosper in the mix. Guyer didn’t miss the playoffs in any 5-6A bracket sport in 2018-19 and was 4-for-4 before the pandemic hit during the 2019-20 school year, while Allen and Prosper combined for 21 postseason appearances over a year-and-a-half in 9-6A.
The 6-6A field has a bit more parity between Lewisville ISD, Plano ISD and Coppell, which should produce some balanced playoff participants.
Ultimately, I see 6-6A having an edge in the four springtime sports — boys and girls soccer, plus baseball and softball — as well as girls basketball. The firepower on the volleyball and boys basketball courts initially favors 5-6A, while football feels like a push.
3. Which football team in 6-6A is most impacted by the pandemic?
Matt Welch: One of the high school football’s biggest casualties was not being afforded spring practices, which would have offered teams the closest thing to a game-like simulation before scrimmages in the fall.
That portion of the offseason is critical for programs breaking in a new head coach, and not getting those practices could prove costly for a team like Plano Senior. The Wildcats named their next head coach not long after high school sports around the state shut down in March, with Todd Ford taking the reins of the program.
Instead of being able to hit the ground running and use spring practices to help jump start the installation of a new scheme, Ford’s acclimation to his new team was done virtually — having to wait 76 days after being introduced as head coach to finally meet his players in person.
It’s a unique situation Plano has tried to make the most of, embracing video conferencing with their new coaches throughout the spring and summer, but without being able to simulate any sort of game-time environment until September, it might take the Wildcats some time before hitting their stride in the first year of the Ford era.
4. Who are a few potential breakout candidates in 6-6A football this fall?
Matt Welch: Plano East senior Dylan Hayden showed flashes of brilliance during his first year at quarterback. Although the Panthers took their lumps at just 1-9 last season, the highlight of the year came in the team’s district opener where Hayden helped commandeer a game-winning drive to topple McKinney Boyd, 21-14.
Hayden totaled 217 yards of offense in that win — 112 rushing and 105 passing — and accounted for all three touchdowns scored by East, but suffered a shoulder sprain likely caused by a late hit from the Broncos after the go-ahead score.
Hayden played through the injury for the rest of the season but split reps behind center with Ryan Foust and Harrison Record as the sprain lingered.
A clean bill of health and an uptick in responsibility could lead to a big senior year for Hayden.
David Wolman: Plano senior quarterback Oliver Towns is a candidate for a potential breakout season in 2020.
After the Wildcat signal-caller passed for 1,882 yards and 23 touchdowns and also rushed for five touchdowns as a junior, expect those numbers to jump dramatically his senior season, especially with the offensive philosophy that first-year head coach Todd Ford brings to Plano.
During Ford’s last three seasons at Lovejoy, the program averaged just over 400 yards per game, highlighted by an average of 451.5 yards amassed in 2018 — a figure that ranked No. 1 in the area among 5A’s top 25 teams in total yardage.
Another player to watch out for is Lewisville junior running back Damien Martinez.
Named the district's offensive newcomer of the year in 2019, Martinez aims to build off a successful sophomore season in which he led the Fighting Farmers in rushing yards (619) and finished second on the team in rushing touchdowns (eight).