High School Football Preview: Melissa coach confident players will step up to season’s challenges
MELISSA - The Cardinals are hoping to pick up where they left off last season after they made a run to the regional semi-finals in 2019.
Melissa finds itself in one of the toughest districts in Class 4A (I) going into the 2020 season. Three teams in the district, including Argyle (2) and Paris (14) as well as Melissa (19), are listed in the pre-season top 20 for Class 4A (I).
Melissa lost several key players from last year’s squad to graduation. Brendon Lewis (Colorado) and Ja’Bray Young (Stephen F. Austin) were both valuable contributors to last season’s success.
Head coach Matt Nally is convinced that the depth the team has at all positions will help overcome the loss of Lewis and Young’s contributions. This all relies on the younger athletes stepping up to the challenge.
“One of the biggest challenges our players face is living in the times we are in right now, but they understand that we have to grow and prosper. One of the most positive things about this season is that the kids are getting to be kids and play the game they love together,” noted Nally.
“Our success this season will hinge on staying injury-free and clicking at the right time. Sometimes we get focused on the now and forget to focus on the goal. Our goal is winning a state championship. We need our kids to understand the process and how to reach that goal,” he said.
The Cardinals return 26 lettermen, with six offensive and six defensive starters among that number. Melissa finished last season 9-4/5-1 district in their run to the regional finals.
Melissa is looking to Parker Taylor (6-0, 190, 4.6) as their signal caller for the 2020 season.
The backfield will consist of Braeden Smith (6-0, 210, 4.6), Ashton Mitchell-Johnson (5-9, 180, 4.4) and Braylon Brown (6-0, 195, 4.5).
Hayden Noffzigger is expected to contribute from the tight end position.
Wide receiver Antonio Robinson (6-4, 190, 4.5) had 41 receptions for 921 yards and 8 touchdowns is a dangerous weapon. He will be joined in the receiving corps by Parker Jack (5-10, 190, 4.6), Damon Youngblood (6-0, 190, 4.5), Chanse Holiday (6-1, 190, 4.5) and other younger players as they develop.
The Cardinal offense will lean on a veteran offensive line early, while some young skill talent finds their way. Bryson Zufelt (6-1, 270), Brandon Ward (6-2, 280), Blake Carrico (6-4, 250) and Bryce Martin (6-4, 250) will anchor the offense up front.
On special teams, Luke Hanson (6-0, 180) will be handling the place kicking duties.
Melissa will line up in its traditional 3-4 defense with defensive back Youngblood leading the unit. Coming off a season with 51 tackles and four interceptions has earned him the reputation as the team’s best all-around player.
The big key for Melissa in its tough district will be how a young defensive line develops.
The defensive linebacker crew will be led by Brown, Jack and Mitchell-Johnson.
The stellar defensive backfield is led by Youngblood, Holiday and Carlos Branch (5-9, 160, 4.5).
Damien Weiderman (5-10, 150) will take care of the punting chores for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals will compete in seven-team District 5-4A (I), which looks to be one of the toughest in Class 4A (I). Opponents this fall will include Argyle, Paris, Kaufman, Carrolton Ranchview and Anna.
When asked about the new district alignment, Nally, commented, “Always excited about who we get to play. Here in Melissa, we want to be the best at everything. So to be the best, you have to play the best. Super pumped about our schedule and who we get to play.”