As the beginning of the football season approaches, there is plenty on the line for Dallas-area schools.
Practice for some schools (UIL 4A, 3A and 1A and private schools, as well as some 6A and 5A programs) begins Monday, with the rest of the state’s largest UIL programs starting Aug. 8.
The first Friday night of the season is Aug. 26. With only a few weeks left until the start of the season, here are 10 storylines to keep in mind.
6A’s best take on national powers early
Three of the Dallas area’s top 6A teams will clash with prominent out-of-state opponents in the early stages of the season.
DeSoto will play St. Augustine (La.) in Week 1 and St. Frances Academy (Md.) in Week 2. The latter is ranked third in the country per MaxPreps and has 15 upperclassmen on its roster with a three-star rating or better, per 247Sports.com, including four-star junior quarterback Michael Van Buren.
Duncanville, last year’s 6A Div. I state runner up, will host Orlando Jones (Fla.) in Week 2. Jones, which went 11-3 last season, will bring four-star senior linebacker Malik Bryant and four-star junior defensive lineman D’antre Robinson along with it. Duncanville lost to national power Mater Dei 45-3 to open last year’s season, then rattled off 13 consecutive wins en route to AT&T Stadium. It’ll be the fifth consecutive season that Reginald Samples’ team faces an out-of-state team as part of its non-district schedule.
And Allen, a five-time state champion now under the direction of first-year head coach Lee Wigginton, will face the toughest non-district test of all. It’ll host St. John Bosco (Calif.), the nation’s No. 1 team per MaxPreps, in Week 1. St. John Bosco has gone 41-5 in the last four seasons and has six seniors with a four-star rating or better, including five-star edge rusher Matayo Uiagalelei.
— Shawn McFarland
Is McKinney set to rebound?
After a 4-6 season in 2021 in which it went 1-5 in district play, McKinney could be set for a major turnaround. It’ll likely start on offense.
McKinney’s passing attack totaled just 11 touchdowns to 10 interceptions in 2021, but the addition of Keldric Luster should ideally spark it. The three-star SMU pledge was The News’ first-team all-area quarterback last season at 5A Frisco Liberty after he passed for 3,453 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for 1,579 yards and 23 touchdowns.
The continued development of two junior four-star recruits will be key to success, too. Wide receiver Xavier Filsaime (35 catches for 463 yards in 2021) and running back Bryan Jackson (973 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021) were McKinney’s top skill position players as sophomores. Three-star senior safety Christian Ford, an Arkansas pledge, is also returning.
“I think that we’re gonna have a chance to win every game we play,” McKinney coach Marcus Shavers told The News in June.
— Shawn McFarland
What will year two hold for Jackson Arnold?
It’s easy to forget — given he played in the 6A state championship game as a freshman and earned his first Power Five scholarship offer as a sophomore — that Denton Guyer five-star quarterback recruit Jackson Arnold has spent only one season as a starter.
He led Guyer to the 6A Div. II state title game, totaled over 4,500 yards, threw for 34 touchdowns to 5 interceptions, and was named The News’ offensive player of the year in 2021.
Not bad for year one as a starter. What will year two hold?
Named the Elite 11 MVP in June, the Oklahoma pledge is the state’s top quarterback recruit in the class of 2023 and will be among the favorites to win The News’ offensive player of the year award — again. Guyer has some holes to fill on offense, namely at wide receiver and running back, though few passers are as well equipped to handle that as Arnold.
“The thing about him is he’s a really good athlete,” first-year Guyer coach Reed Heim said in June. “He can spin it. But man, he’s a great kid, and he has some natural leadership ability. He’s not a real vocal guy, but he’s just a guy that has the ‘it’ factor or just some magnetism.”
— Shawn McFarland
Breakout players to watch
On the topic of Arnold — who went from backup to star in the span of one year — which players could take a leap in 2022?
That list starts with Flower Mound Marcus quarterback Cole Welliver. A four-star recruit in the class of 2024, Welliver backed up Jaxxon Warren at Marcus last year but should have the reins of the offense this fall. He holds offers from Arizona State, Washington State and Colorado.
At the 5A classification, look for Lancaster’s Kyson Brown to make the most of his lone season of varsity football in Texas. The senior running back, ranked No. 94 on The News’ top 100 recruits list for the class of 2023, holds offers from SMU, Houston and Rice. After moving to Lancaster from Mississippi in 2021, Brown played on Lancaster’s junior varsity team last season due to eligibility rules, and “scored like 50-something touchdowns” according to coach Leon Paul.
Watch for DeSoto’s Mario Buford to stand out on defense. The four-star junior recruit — a top 25 cornerback in the nation, per 247Sports.com — played in 11 games and made 18 tackles as a sophomore, but should see his playing time spike this fall thanks to a blend of added experience and holes in the secondary to fill.
— Shawn McFarland
Lovejoy will lean on veteran receiving corps
After appearing in back-to-back 5A-II regional finals, Lovejoy has plenty of returning talent, including its top three targets.
The Leopards return two area top-50 wide receivers in Jaxson Lavender and Kyle Parker. Lavender is the No. 45 Dallas-area recruit in his class and ranked second in receiving yards among all 5A receivers in the area. The SMU pledge had 78 catches for 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns. Parker is the 38th-ranked recruit in the area and added 16 touchdowns while averaging 22.47 yards per catch, earning him a spot at LSU after graduation.
In addition to the senior duo, Lovejoy has Parker Livingstone back. Together the three combined for 42 touchdowns in 2021.
To their benefit, the Leopards also return QB Alexander Franklin, who finished second among all 5A area passers with 3,257 yards and 50 touchdowns on the year.
Together, the four led an offense that averaged 47.36 points per game last season.
— Lia Assimakopoulos
South Oak Cliff turns to outside talent to replace departed seniors
The defending 5A state champions are the early favorites to do it again, but they’ll have to fill some holes to do so.
Quarterback Kevin Henry-Jennings, now at SMU, and running backs Ke’Undrae Hollywood and Qualon Farrar were the three biggest losses from last season, as Henry-Jennings threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 38 touchdowns with just three interceptions while the RBs combined for 2,200 yards and 33 scores.
Jason Todd told The Dallas Morning News he expects Garland Naaman Forest transfer Tray Walton to win the starting QB role. Walton threw for 1,381 yards and 14 touchdowns in his junior season, leading his team to a 5-3 finish and third overall in District 9-6A. He beat out last year’s backup, Tedrick Williams, and William Little for the job.
Todd hasn’t yet named a starting running back, but Williams is a candidate for that role as well alongside Levell Peters and Danny Green, who were on JV last year.
With no major losses on defense and a secondary that returns four cornerbacks in the area’s top-100 recruits, the Golden Bears have the talent to dominate again this season.
— Lia Assimakopoulos
How will Argyle fare in 5A?
For some schools, moving up classifications is no problem. They dominated their former opponents and are able to hang with the tougher competition. For others, it’s a significant challenge.
With Argyle, one of 4A’s biggest powers, making the big move to 5A, its fate is up in the air.
“I’ve seen the transition from 2A to 3A, and I’ve seen the transition from 3A to 4A,” head coach Todd Rodgers said. “I’m expecting there are just better players on the field at every position. Obviously, the size and length of their players are going to improve and move up a scale.”
Argyle won state titles at the 3A level in 2013 and at the 4A level in 2020. It will now compete in District 3-5A alongside schools such as Denton, Frisco Independence and Lake Dallas — a division in which it has a solid chance to excel.
Opening its season with Melissa and Lovejoy, it will be put to the test early.
Rodgers said his team will rely on its schemes and top talent such as DL Riley Van Poppell and RB Landon Farris and hope that’s enough for it to keep up with the new, steeper competition.
— Lia Assimakopoulos
Breakout year brewing?
Denton Ryan and South Oak Cliff have claimed all the attention as the heavy favorites to dominate their classification due to their high star power and state championship potentials. But for some up-and-coming 5A programs, could 2022 be their year?
A pair of Mansfield schools could come knocking, as Mansfield Summit and Mansfield Timberview finished ranked third and eighth, respectively, in The News’ final 5A rankings last season. Summit has reached back-to-back state semifinal games while Timberview advanced to the regional semifinals last year after averaging 51.3 points per game.
Only one MISD team has reached the state championship game -- Lake Ridge in 2015.
Justin Northwest is another team to keep an eye on as it boasts the No. 2 Dallas-area quarterback in the class of 2023. Texas Tech pledge Jake Strong threw for 2,335 yards and 30 touchdowns last season in a 7-4 campaign.
The aforementioned Argyle could have a breakout year in its first season in 5A, as it competes in a manageable district and could quickly climb the 5A rankings. Lancaster, which notched a playoff win during Leon Paul’s first season as head coach, has a roster full of players with D-I offers, led by senior RB Kyson Brown. Paul said his goals this season are much bigger, though.
“Until we play 16 games and win the state championship, I’m not going to be satisfied,” he said.
Each of these teams has a chance to shock the classification. It’s not a question of if someone will, but who?
— Lia Assimakopoulos
Top division in TAPPS hits a new low
A Dallas-area team has won the last 14 TAPPS Division I state titles in football. The chances of that streak being extended are pretty good considering that D-FW schools represent nearly half of the teams playing in TAPPS Division I this year.
There will be only 11 schools in that division for football this season, the lowest total that TAPPS executive director Bryan Bunselmeyer can remember having. There will be two districts, one of which will be an all-D-FW district that features Parish Episcopal, Bishop Lynch, Fort Worth Nolan, Plano Prestonwood Christian and TCA-Addison.
Parish Episcopal has won the last three Division I championships, and Prestonwood, Bishop Lynch and Nolan combined to win nine state titles from 2008 through 2017.
By comparison, the UIL has 249 football-playing schools in 6A, its top classification, and 128 of those will make the playoffs. There were only 12 teams in the TAPPS Division I playoffs last season, with four of them getting a first-round bye.
“I think it’s kind of cyclical,” Parish Episcopal coach Daniel Novakov said. “It flexed all the way up to 16 [teams] when I first started five years ago. I think a lot of it has to do with making sure the right teams are placed in the right divisions. If some of the perennial powers like All Saints and Argyle Liberty drop below some of the other schools [in enrollment], they don’t want to move up.”
Division II will have the most teams in TAPPS this year, with 24. That is followed by Division III with 19 teams and Division IV with 18 teams.
TAPPS Division I shrunk this year with 2021 state runner-up Midland Christian moving down to Division II, along with Argyle Liberty Christian and Fort Worth All Saints. Plano John Paul II left Division I and will compete as an independent in football, and 2014 and 2018 Division I state champion Bishop Dunne now competes in Division II.
“There is still good football around us, and there is still good football on the other side of the state,” Nolan coach KJ Williams said. “Getting to a state championship is never easy.”
— Greg Riddle
Will Parish Episcopal find another breakout star at RB?
Going into last season, Parish Episcopal coach Daniel Novakov didn’t expect that Andrew Paul would be a dominant ball carrier for the top private school football team in the state. Paul ended up rushing for a Dallas-area best 2,616 yards and 41 touchdowns as Parish Episcopal won its third straight TAPPS Division I state title, and he became such a breakout star that he signed with national champion Georgia after running for 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns in his final three games.
With the three-star recruit gone, Novakov is repeating his words from a year ago.
“I don’t know that we’ll have one dominant ball carrier,” he said. “But I wouldn’t have told you that we would have one dominant ball carrier last year either.”
Going into Monday’s season-opening practice, Parish Episcopal has three players competing for the chance to be the starting running back. Cedric Mays was the team’s second-leading rusher last year, with 31 carries for 167 yards, but he will also play wide receiver after catching 35 passes for 550 yards and four touchdowns.
The other running back candidates are Maddux Reid, a transfer from Southlake Carroll, and Drayson “DC” Crane. Reid ran for 315 yards and five touchdowns on 52 carries for Carroll, but the junior was stuck behind Owen Allen, who has run for more than 2,000 yards the last two seasons and is back for his senior year.
“We’ve got three guys that we feel pretty good about at running back. They all bring different things to the table,” Novakov said. “Who the next Andrew Paul is this coming year is going to be interesting.”
— Greg Riddle