The 2018-19 high school sports year was rife with new challenges for The Colony, Little Elm and Lake Dallas, which made the move to District 8-5A alongside Denton ISD and Justin Northwest. The result was a parity-heavy athletics campaign from many of the top Class 5A programs in the Metroplex.
Throughout the summer, Star Local Media will reflect on the year that was for 8-5A’s seven schools while also looking ahead to what lies in store for 2019-20.
With that said, here’s the 11th installment of Five Questions for District 8-5A.
1. The Colony and Frisco Reedy captured district championships on the gridiron last season. What is the likelihood for a repeat title for either?
Bryan Murphy: Despite Reedy graduating various key pieces from last year’s record-breaking ballclub in guys like quarterback Josh Foskey, offensive lineman Izeya Floyd, tight end Nolan Matthews and defensive lineman Matthew Hoots, the Lions are locked and loaded again for 2019.
Reedy will have a more than capable quarterback in Boston College commit Jalen Kitna, as well as special talent around him in Navy commit Will Harbour at linebacker and Oklahoma commit Nate Anderson protecting Kitna on the offensive line.
With Lovejoy and Lake Dallas both graduating star quarterbacks, Reedy remains the favorite in 7-5A Division II.
But for The Colony, the hurdle it must leap over is undoubtedly Lone Star, a team the Cougars defeated last year on a last-second hook-and-ladder play that was executed to perfection.
This will not be the same Lone Star squad The Colony went toe-to-toe with last season, as the Rangers reeled in Nevada commit Chandler Galban to take over for Julian Larry at quarterback.
The one-two punch of Galban and four-star senior wide receiver Marvin Mims, along with Lone Star’s suffocating defense, starring three-star linebacker Jaylan Ford, will be lethal once again.
2. Reedy, Lovejoy and Lake Dallas all graduated star quarterbacks. Which program is most likely to have the smoothest transition under center for the upcoming season?
Taylor Raglin: With a multi-sport star back in the fold in junior Ralph Rucker, Lovejoy will look to pick up where it left off a season ago on offense. An all-district safety in 2018, Rucker will take over under center in the wake of alum Carson Collins, and his overall athleticism should help him adapt to his new role as the Leopards’ primary signal-caller.
Rucker assumed the role in the spring, giving the junior a lengthy offseason to get conditioned to the role, and the move paid early dividends in the summer 7-on-7 season, during which Rucker led the Leopards to a state tournament appearance.
Still, Frisco Reedy looks to have a clear-cut favorite of its own in junior transfer Jalen Kitna, the son of former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna, who’s currently committed to Boston College. While Kitna doesn’t have the familiarity with the program that Rucker does at Lovejoy, he should be able to leverage both his own talent and the talent surrounding him at Reedy and produce a successful first campaign in Frisco.
All in all, which will have the best transition comes down to which of the two utilizes his best assets – Rucker’s athleticism and familiarity and Kitna’s talent and his dominant program, overall – more effectively.
3. What is Little Elm’s biggest obstacle in returning to the football playoffs?
Bryan Murphy: Little Elm has had its struggles in the past when paired up with Frisco ISD in district play, but the Lobos turned the corner a bit in 2018.
Last season, the Lobos showed FISD Little Elm was not the same program from its winless season back in 2015, going 3-3 against their Frisco foes in year No. 1 in 5-5A Division I.
But, for Little Elm to experience postseason action for the first time since 2016, the Lobos must continue to get over that hump and post a winning record of at least 4-2 against their rivals to at least have a shot at punching a ticket to the tournament.
4. With Lake Dallas’ Brandon Engel expected to be a key contributor at either quarterback or receiver, how might the Falcons best maximize his skill set?
Taylor Raglin: There’s only one player on any given offense that is guaranteed to handle the ball on every play, and you can find him under center.
With that said, it’s likely that the Falcons should utilize Engel, who’s clearly their best athlete and most prominent asset, at the quarterback position.
While there’s an argument to be made that Engel could better serve the program out wide, where he led the team a season ago by an enormous margin, someone would have to consistently get him the football. That someone may exist in the program, but that’s a large “may” when Engel’s talent with the football has been proven time and again.
In short, the Falcons should (and likely will) tailor their offense to make use of Engel in the role of the No. 1 quarterback, whether that be working to develop his arm talent, utilizing more designed quarterback runs or some combination of both. It’s clear, though, that the team’s best path to victory is getting the football into his hands, meaning that the Falcons should work to make that happen as often as possible.
5. Make one bold prediction for the 2019-20 school year in 8-5A athletics.
Taylor Raglin: Lake Dallas will win the 8-5A girls basketball title. While seniors Jewel Spear and Tamia Jones and The Colony appear to have a stranglehold on the league for one more season, the Lady Falcons return their entire starting five and lost to the Lady Cougars by just 11 points, collectively, in the programs’ two 2018 games. If Lake Dallas can earn a split and dominate elsewhere under new head coach Jordan Davis, who’s to say they couldn’t dethrone the reigning champs?
Bryan Murphy: Neither Little Elm, The Colony nor Justin Northwest take home the district title in boys basketball this season.
Those three programs were in a league of their own a year ago and stood head and shoulders above the rest of the district, but expect a young and hungry team like Denton Braswell to swoop in and make some noise on the hardwood.