Monday marked the first day of football practices for several Class 6A and 5A high schools around the state.
For the first five days, programs will work out their student-athletes in helmets, T-shirts and shorts as part of the UIL-mandated acclimatization period before lacing up the pads for the first time since the end of last season.
It’ll be a welcome sight for plenty of coaches, who have been waiting for an opportunity to evaluate their players in pads and under the physical rigors that are part and parcel with football — something that just can’t be replicated in shorts and T-shirts.
Typically, spring workouts afford coaches that chance for evaluation, but with those falling by the wayside due to the ongoing global pandemic, programs are having to make up for lost time during the short window between now and the start of the regular season on Sept. 24-25.
That includes the teams in Allen and Plano ISD, all of which entered the offseason with personnel questions that they’ve spent months having to find different ways to answer.
The Eagles had a run of seven consecutive trips to at least the state semifinals snapped last season in a heartbreaking loss to Rockwall.
Allen’s road to redemption isn’t without some hurdles, tasked with breaking in a new quarterback and replacing nearly its starting defense.
The Eagles were in good hands behind center last season with alum Raylen Sharpe elevating himself up the depth chart from a backup role into a starting spot that eventually garnered District 9-6A MVP honors. Allen likely won’t have a similar luxury this season, with Parker Wells and General Booty in contention to take the reins behind center — both of whom transferred into Allen during the offseason.
Booty, a California product, passed for 1,032 yards and six touchdowns at JSerra last season, according to the Orange County Register. Wells, meanwhile, split reps behind center at Sachse and threw for 865 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Leading up to the start of practices this week, head coach Terry Gambill didn’t offer comment on the status of the competition, given that the Eagles were yet to practice in pads.
Meanwhile, Allen’s defense will have several new faces taking the field after graduating nine players who earned all-district honors on that side of the ball. Senior defensive back Cade Patton is the lone returner to log more than 340 defensive snaps last season, racking up 27 tackles and breaking up five passes.
Allen’s defense is no stranger to reloading, however, thanks in part to the wealth of snaps played by its backups. Look for senior Levi Tupou and Link Smith to emerge as contributors at linebacker, while senior safety Alexander Green has already begun to generate some college interest, and Gambill commended the leadership and growth of senior defensive lineman Isaiah Hullum after an injury-plagued 2019 campaign.
The Panthers relied heavily on running back Trey Jones-Scott last season, and the speedster responded by leading the team in both rushing (709 yards) and receiving (418).
East won’t be as heliocentric this season, and despite the inexperience at the offensive skill positions, head coach Joey McCullough said he’s been more impressed by the development of his receivers this summer than any other position group.
East anticipates some depth to its pass-catching corps — so much so that McCullough was comfortable moving last season’s fourth- and fifth-leading receivers, Cam Wood and Damion Gunnels, to the other side of the ball to fill voids on defense — and much of that will center on the growth of senior Kaden Gardner, who was injured for much of last season, as well as senior Jayden Nava, sophomore Rushil Patel and junior Ismal Mahdi.
Mahdi transferred to East from the PISD central cluster and has drawn rave reviews from McCullough for his versatility and athleticism, and could see time at both receiver and running back.
Joining senior quarterback Dylan Hayden in the backfield will be junior David Johnson, who spelled Jones-Scott as a sophomore last season and saw 38 carries for 133 yards and a touchdown.
The Wildcats were left on the doorstep of the District 9-6A playoff picture for the second consecutive season, faltering down the stretch with three consecutive losses to close out the year.
That late-season skid coincided with a dearth of options in the passing game, with Plano’s top three receiving leaders all missing time over that stretch.
The Wildcats’ aerial assault, one of the team’s strong suits, never recovered, and if Plano looks to right the ship this season, it’ll have to do so with a brand-new receiving corps.
Senior Jayden Chambers, Nolan Williams and Christian Sabatini have all moved on to college, with Plano returning only five of 96 receptions by wide receivers from last season. Those catches belonged to seniors Khamare Spivery and D’Mariyon Lloyd, both of whom figured to have their number called more often this year as they acclimate to expanded roles on the outside.
Also expect senior Tylan Hines, Plano’s top running back, to have a big say in the receiving game as well. The big-play rusher caught 14 passes for 169 yards and three touchdowns last season and should have chances to improve on those numbers in the Wildcats’ revamped offense under head coach Todd Ford.
For the second straight year, the Wolves are embroiled in a quarterback competition.
Last season, head coach Tyler Soukup had as many as five players vying for the starting job behind center throughout the offseason, and although the field might not be as crowded time around, the second-year head coach has three names looking to lead the West offense in 2020.
Senior Greg Draughn, one of the aforementioned players who competed for the quarterback job in 2019, as well as junior Charlie Johnson and sophomore Vance Feuerbacher are on the radar as potential options.
“They’re making it hard on me. They each have a day where they’re sharp and laser-focused and the next day it’ll be a different guy that stands out,” Soukup said. “At the end of the day, we’re looking for a competitive guy who’s accurate and can distribute the ball.”
Neither signal-caller attempted a pass at the varsity level last season, although Draughn gained experience on defense as a starter in the Wolves’ secondary.
West looks for some clarity on that battle leading up to its opener Sept. 25 against Wylie, scheduled to scrimmage Wylie East on Sept. 17.