Another year of high school football is mere days away, and as is typically the case in August, fans don’t have to look far to find reasons for positivity about the upcoming season.
Everybody is undefeated, after all.
A new season means a clean slate, and although that optimism is sure to ebb and flow over the coming months, that doesn’t mean fans don’t have reasons to be excited about something pertaining to their favorite team heading into the upcoming season.
Take the three senior high schools in Plano ISD, for example.
Taylor Raglin: While the Panthers lost nearly their entire offense from an eight-win campaign in 2018, there is at least one player on each side of the ball for East that's worth the price of admission.
On offense, a change in identity will be spearheaded by senior running back Trey Jones-Scott, whose talent was often overshadowed a season ago by alum Brandon Mallory and the high-flying East aerial attack. Jones-Scott slots in alongside Jesuit's E.J. Smith in the conversation surrounding the best backs in the district, and he'll be called upon to tote the rock at a much heavier rate this fall. With speed and athleticism to spare, Jones-Scott could allow East to successfully pivot to a run-based, ball-control offense that allows the program to effectively manage games and lean on a defense that should be improved.
Speaking of those stoppers, senior leader K'Von Hamilton will helm a strong group in the trenches and is poised for more success on the defensive front. Hamilton holds an offer from Navy and could see more roll in with a strong senior campaign. He moves well with his 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound frame, and he'll be aiming for a second consecutive season with double-digit sacks.
All told, the external expectations for East are low following the graduation of so much prolific talent, particularly on offense. However, if the Panthers' identity shift and help from a highly successful junior varsity team pan out how head coach Joey McCullough expects, there may not be as pronounced a step backward as many anticipate.
Matt Welch: For the past three years, alum Kyron Cumby dazzled Plano fans with a home run-hitting ability out of the backfield like few runners to ever don the maroon and white. Over his varsity campaign, Cumby averaged a staggering 8.6 yards per carry, over 2.0 yards per carry more than recent greats like Rex Burkhead and Brandon Stephens.
The notion that Cumby could spring one to the house at any given moment was central to Plano’s identity, and although he’ll next bring that explosiveness to the gridiron at the University of Illinois, the Wildcats should still be pretty electric on the ground this season.
The pieces are in place for another thunder-and-lightning duo in the backfield between senior Cody Crist, who enters his third year as a major varsity contributor after amassing 286 rushing yards and four touchdowns on nearly 5.0 yards per carry last year, as well as junior Tylan Hines, who at times looked the part of a younger Cumby facsimile — logging 779 rushing yards and nine scores on 10.4 yards per carry — on his way to 9-6A Offensive Newcomer of the Year honors.
With Crist splitting his snaps on defense, Hines came on strong down the stretch for Plano, logging 545 yards on just 59 rushes (9.2 per carry) over the final four games of the season — all team-high marks over that span.
Between the increased workload out of the backfield, plus the Wildcats’ proclivity for involving their running backs in the passing game (Cumby, Crist and Hines accounted for 56 of Plano’s 102 completed passes last season), the offense’s big-play potency has a chance to remain intact this season.
Taylor Raglin: Instead of any one player or unit, Wolves fans should simply be excited about the prospect of embracing optimism and a new direction after dropping 26 consecutive games entering 2019.
Sure, there are potential standouts on the West roster – senior and 2018 leading receiver Cole Carter is back in the fold alongside promising talent and fellow senior Tavarius Garland, and junior Jacob Stephens has the potential to be electric on either side of the football.
There should also be more opportunities for the kinds of big, splashy plays that the Wolves have been missing over the past two-plus seasons, as new head coach Tyler Soukup is attempting to renew the program's commitment to the passing game behind a yet-to-be-named starter under center.
Overall, though, even in the face of tempered expectations, Soukup seems to have the program focusing on a general identity and direction. That doesn't mean the streak will come to a merciful end for those on the West side this fall – for that to happen, the Wolves will need to beat a team from among a 10-team lineup that handed them their latest winless effort a season ago.
However, a new figurehead can often energize a program, and West should be no different. With a new philosophy in tow and a new air of potential buzzing around the Wolves' practice field, fans should feel comfortable in expecting, at the very least, a more competitive group in blue and white as the fall moves along.