It’s that time again, when everything stops for Friday night high school football. The regular-season fun starts Aug. 30 and runs through Nov. 8.
Melissa has a new head coach and Anna will have a new quarterback for this year’s slate of hard-hitting gridiron action. Also known for certain is this: District 7-4A Division I is again maybe the toughest 4A grouping in Texas, with Argyle, Paris, Melissa and Celina all perched among the state’s Top 25 teams. But don’t forget Sanger — with its new head coach — or North Lamar — with its new slot-T offense.
It all portends plenty of thrilling plays, momentum swings and heart-breaking turnovers — the stuff that makes Texas high school football a happening like no other.
We spoke with our local head coaches recently about where the Coyotes and Cardinals have been and where they’re headed this fall. Read on and prepare to back your favorite squad.
Head coach: Jason Heath /8th year
2018 record: 5-5 overall, 2-4 District 7-4A(I); 5th place, no playoffs
Season-opener: Aug. 30 v. Whitesboro
District-opener: Sept. 27 v. North Lamar
Furthest road trip: Oct. 20 at Paris (73 miles, one-way)
Game you shouldn’t miss: Oct. 11 v. Melissa
The Coyotes finished one game back of fourth-place Celina last year, just out of the playoffs. In its second run through this super-charged district, Anna will have another tough path to post-season play, but new personnel in key positions and a newly-installed system could provide the boost needed to advance.
“We knew going into that the district was going to be tough,” Coach Heath said in his office at AHS. “Our non-district schedule was pretty tough as well. … Your top four teams were Argyle Paris, Melissa and Celina. You’ve got to knock off one of those to get in the playoffs. I think it was a little bit of a learning curve for us, in seeing that stout of competition. Against good teams, you’ve got be able to execute. You can’t have mental breakdowns and lapses. It comes down to making plays.”
Heath noted the Celina game in particular, when the Coyotes dug themselves an early 21-0 hole with mistakes and turnovers. “Against [state-semifinalist] Argyle, we played probably one of our better games,” he said. “We moved the ball well and had some good stops. But their offense is pretty tough to defend. We were right there a majority of the game.
“I truly feel this is one of the toughest 4A Divisions I districts in the state of Texas. You know if you go to the playoffs out of this group, it’s not like you’re going to see anything that’s a whole lot better than the competition we face. The hardest part is getting out.
“It’s fun to be a part of — just knowing we’ve got great coaches on our staff and we get to go up week-in week-out against some of the state’s best. It’s where you want to be.”
New offensive coordinator Greg Millerick has installed a revamped system involving new formations, play calls and terminology. Heath said the transition has gone well.
With the graduation Fernando Rodriguez, the Coyotes must reload at quarterback. At this writing, three candidates were battling it out: juniors Zachareus Gentry, Josh Packard and Jaden Adams.
“They’ve been getting an equal number of reps and they’re making the decision tough,” Heath said. “It’s something that’s really nice to have. There’ve been years we’ve come into it going, ‘Who are we putting there?’ Now we’ve got three guys and I think any one of them can do a good job for us.”
Heath noted that all three candidates to run Anna’s multiple spread offense are solid passers and a threat to run. Rodriguez, he said, was a “tough, hard-nosed kid who gave us everything he had” but was most effective as a runner.
Adams didn’t play last year but was Anna’s quarterback in junior high and as a freshman. Gentry, a move-into from Denison a year ago, was as a top sprinter for Coyotes track last spring. Packard was the JV quarterback a year ago.
At running back, senior Abner Dubar returns after rushing for 576 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.
Junior Arthur Nwokorie, a move-in from Allen, has been splitting reps with Dubar and should provide a spark along with senior John Mark Box. “We’ve got three there that give us a little different look,” Heath said. “Abner obviously has experience back there and did a great job for us last year.”
Senior Dorien Allen, who flashed for several big runs last year, moves to slot receiver.
Up front, senior center Colton Wortham returns after playing every snap last season.
“He’s undersized but he makes up for it with his heart, fight and grit,” Heath said. “He got a lot of plays under his belt last year and was a kid we could really count on. We’re expecting the same from him this year.”
Senior guard Major Mosier and senior tackle Rasheed Readus are back in the trenches as well. “We have three guys up front that have a lot of game experience,” Heath said. Readus, he noted, moves to tackle after playing tight end last season.
Junior Elijah Oglesby will also contribute at a guard spot and a pair of sophomores should also find O-line time. One of them, Jay Heath, is the backup center now but can “pretty much play any of the positions up there as needed,” Coach Heath said. “He’s mainly working defense now as a tackle.”
At receiver, the Coyotes lost top performers Emmonte Davis and Kareem Mason but seasoned senior Noah Palshaw returns. Besides Allen in the slot, senior Jacob Odom, senior Cayden Parrott and junior Darren Woods will also bolster the receiving corps.
“I think any season it starts with the offensive line,” Heath said. “What they’re able to do and not do kind of dictates what you game plan for, the play types that you’re looking for. You definitely need that group to come together and be able to execute. … And obviously, quarterback is a very important position.”
On defense, Coach Joey Hector moves from offensive coordinator to defensive coordinator and will also serve as associate head coach.
“His background is mainly on the defensive side,” Heath said. “He’s excited to be back over there. I think he’ll tell you that being on the offensive side for several years is going to help him be a better defensive coordinator.”
The defense has new schemes and packages as well, though not as much change as on offense. The Coyotes will base out of a 3-4 alignment.
With several graduated from the D-line, filling those slots has been a point of emphasis.
“We need like six guys up there that we can rotate in and can play,” Heath said. “I think we’re coming along and progressing. It’s new to them as well, the different types of schemes and things. … We’ve got some guys in there that we’re expecting big things from and we need them to produce.”
Junior defensive end Justin Muthaka provides solid experience along with junior nose guard Tyler Lang. Jay Heath at tackle and fellow sophomore Sean Lee will add depth as well.
Then junior Ethan Dunlap, who moved in late last year and didn’t play, “is showing us positive things each and every day in practice,” Heath said.
Dubar, an All-District safety last year, leads a secondary that will miss two-way standouts Davis and Mason. Move-in junior Micaiah Ross will work at corner along with Nwokorie at the other safety.
The linebacking corps lost All-District pick Trey Cook and Nick Reid. “A big spot for us is finding outside linebackers,” Heath said. “And we lost some guys inside. … We’re moving some kids around to fit the voids and our kids are really responding to it.”
Box moves from outside to inside linebacker where Heath said he doing a good job. Odom, Parrott and Packard will also be counted on here.
In the kicking game, freshman Justin Amon will likely get the call. Heath said the former middle school kicker “has a unique opportunity to come in and find a place on our varsity team.”
At this writing, punting-duty competition was still underway.
(if room, team schedules are below)
(7:30 p.m. starts, except 7 p.m. for Eastern Hills)
9/6 @FW Eastern Hills
9/13 @Van Alstyne
9/20 FW Benbrook (Homecoming)
*9/27 North Lamar