What you need to know: Rockwall

Rockwall quarterback Will Reed throws a pass last year. He threw 33 touchdown passes. (Bill Carter, for the Record-Chronicle)

Rockwall quarterback Will Reed throws a pass last year. He threw 33 touchdown passes. (Bill Carter, Dallas Morning News)

Finally! Texas high school football has returned. A note to those who were searching for our Denton Record-Chronicle preseason magazine this morning. I feel your pain … it WAS scheduled to drop today, but unfortunately, no one received it unless they were a subscriber. Somehow, it was left out of the papers on newsstands and will be re-inserted into Friday’s paper. In the meantime, here’s the online version (Football mag). I’ve already personally dropped off a handful at Ryan, and will try to make more rounds today. Sorry again folks, but it will be worth the wait!

Now for the purpose of this blog. Ryan at Rockwall. It should be a good one between two teams that fought a close battle last year. Ryan struggled last season, but was one of only two teams to hold Rockwall — which finished 12-1 — to 26 points or less. That’s impressive considering the Yellowjackets averaged just more than 53 points last year. Rockwall lost some weapons, namely running back Chris Warren (Texas) and receiver Xavier Castille (SMU), but always seems to reload. Ryan has sophomore quarterback Spencer Sanders, a host of weapons, and a defense with bite.

FYI … I will have a game advance in tomorrow’s paper. For now, here’s some quick info.

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What you need to know: Allen

Allen head coach Tom Westerberg (right) talks to Alex Robinson (left) as quarterback Seth Green (7) listens during afternoon practice on Aug. 10 in Allen. (G.J. McCarthy/The Dallas Morning News)

Allen head coach Tom Westerberg (right) talks to Alex Robinson (left) as quarterback Seth Green (7) listens during afternoon practice on Aug. 10 in Allen. (G.J. McCarthy/The Dallas Morning News)

Well, folks. Here we go. That annual #txhsfb grind begins on Friday, and Guyer’s game against Allen is quite possibly the biggest of a big slate of marquee games in the area in Week 1. It’s going to be spectacle city in Allen as the Eagles reopen their $60 million stadium after a year of structural fixes — as an aside, keep us in the press box in your thoughts — and there is even a sky-diving team set to jump out of an airplane and deliver the game ball. Boy, you just can’t get any more Allen and #txhsfb than that.

The game itself? Well, it should be a dandy between two teams ranked in the preseason top 10 of the Associated Press Class 6A state poll. Last year was the coming out party for Shawn Robinson, Guyer’s dynamic dual-threat quarterback who made his first start for the Wildcats against Allen last year. That was a game featuring a tremendous matchup at quarterback, but now all-World QB Kyler Murray is at Texas A&M and Allen must turn elsewhere under center. They have two options, and both are expected to play, in Minnesota move-in Seth Green, an Oregon commit, and Mitchell Jonke, who transferred to Allen from Lovejoy two years ago.

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Preseason questions: Talkin’ bout playoffs?

Denton Ryan's Trent Willis (21) celebrates with teammates after the Raiders' 34-33 win during the Denton Ryan High School Raiders vs. the Midway High School Panthers football playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Saturday, November 23, 2013.  (Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News)

Denton Ryan’s Trent Willis (21) celebrates with teammates after the Raiders’ 34-33 win during the Denton Ryan High School Raiders vs. the Midway High School Panthers football playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Saturday, November 23, 2013. (Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News)

Ryan won’t start its first practice of 2015 until first-thing Monday morning, but I thought it would be a good idea to touch on five key questions/things to look for heading into the “big day.” I’ll focus on one per day.

Question # 5 — We’ve explored several questions/points of interest over the course of this week when it comes to the Raiders’ 2015 season. So having digested all of that, it’s time to make some bold predictions. After missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 years last season, does this year’s Ryan team have what it takes to right the ship? Specifically, will the Raiders make the playoffs?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve got Ryan finishing 3rd in District 5-6A with a record of 5-2, just behind Guyer and Keller. There will likely still be an incredible amount of parity in this district, as was the case last year, but I truly believe Ryan is a Top 3 team against this slate.

Here’s the deal: Ryan missed the playoffs last year not so much because of the competition, but because it was horrible at protecting the football. I know it, you know, THEY know it. You can’t turn the ball over 23 times in 10 games and expect to do well. I look back on district losses to Keller Central (5 turnovers), Keller (3 turnovers) and Northwest (4 turnovers), and I see at least two extra wins if you take out the errors. Despite its miscues, Ryan was still a playoff-bubble team going into Week 9.

Furthermore, coach Dave Henigan is a solid coach and this is not the same inexperienced squad he took over last year. He has a defense loaded with talent (8 guys who started or saw significant playing time), an offense with weapons, and a core group of players who believe last year was an anomaly.

Good enough for me. And if any Ryan players don’t like how many district losses I’ve got for you in 2015, prove me wrong. I’m good with that, too.

From Thursday: Pass-catching studs

From Wednesday: Running back by committee

From Tuesday: Where’s the beef?

From Monday: Cutting down on turnovers

Preseason questions: Pass-catching studs

Ryan WR Rodney Gladney tries to shake off a tackle against Byron Nelson last year (Mike Mezuel/For the Record-Chronicle)

Ryan WR Rodney Gladney tries to shake off a tackle against Byron Nelson last year (Mike Mezeul II, for the Record-Chronicle)

Ryan won’t start its first practice of 2015 until first-thing Monday morning, but I thought it would be a good idea to touch on five key questions/things to look for heading into the “big day.” I’ll focus on one per day.

Question # 4 — Ryan was a run-heavy team last year, playing to its strengths behind a veteran offensive line, nimble quarterback and an experienced running back. The nimble quarterback (Spencer Sanders) is back, but he also has a pretty solid arm. Coach Dave Henigan wants to open up the playbook, but who will Sanders throw to in 2015?

For you eagle-eyed readers out there, you are correct. I said in my previous blog that today’s question would focus on defense. I’m not trying to hate on the Raider defense by switching gears, it’s just that we know they have as many as eight guys back who either started or saw significant playing time in 2015. It’s going to be a solid group, and I promise to make it up to them.

Another reason for the switch is that I went out to Raider Nation this morning and caught the tail end of a throwing session Sanders was having with his new receivers. I’ll tell you right now, he’s got some weapons. Not only is Rodney Gladney back in the fold (236 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns last year), but the sophomore duo of Gabriel Douglas and Tauskie Dove looked really good.

Exactly how good they are … time will tell and I certainly don’t want to give them too much credit yet. But at around 6-2 and 6-3, respectively, they look like the type of guys who can flat out go get a ball no matter where it’s thrown. In Ryan’s spring game, Dove made a leaping catch over a defender, twisted around, and ran in for a 65-yard touchdown.

Either way, they add depth to a position that also includes Randy Gray and Keith Cole.

Coming Friday: Playoff predictions (unless I change my mind)

From Wednesday: Running back by committee

From Tuesday: Where’s the beef?

From Monday: Cutting down on turnovers

Preseason questions: Two-way troopers

Guyer's Thabo Mwaniki (30) tackles a Keller Central Charger during a game last season at C.H. Collins Stadium. Maegan Puetz/For the DRC

Guyer’s Thabo Mwaniki (30) tackles a Keller Central Charger during a game last season at C.H. Collins Stadium. Maegan Puetz/For the DRC

The Guyer Wildcats are set to begin fall practice on Monday, and with days to go before that early morning practice comes, we’re going to take a look at five preseason questions/things to watch for in the upcoming season.

Guyer is set to open their 10th regular season in program history on Aug. 28 in the re-opening of Allen Eagle Stadium against the three-time defending Class 6A Division I state champion Eagles. Before that, the Wildcats scrimmage Euless Trinity and have a lot of practices leading up to that.

Question: The Wildcats have a history with two-way players, even though it isn’t something that is too prevalent at the state’s largest classification. Josh Stewart was one of the best players in the state while starring at cornerback and wide receiver for Guyer before going on to Oklahoma State and then the Tennessee Titans. The Wildcats will rely on a couple of more two-way stars this year. Can they hold up?

In 2010, when the Wildcats advanced to the Class 5A Division II (now known as 6A) state championship game, they did it with a couple of studs going both ways at wide receiver and cornerback. It all started with Stewart, who racked up nearly 1,000 receiving yards with 10 touchdowns despite not playing on offense until the fifth game of the season. On defense, he racked up 85 tackles, broke up 12 passes and had seven interceptions. For good measure, he added a punt return touchdown.

They also had Quint Gardener, who missed several games due to injury but had 544 receiving yards with six touchdowns to go with 29 tackles, five breakups and four interceptions and was huge in the postseason on defense.

Will they have anyone like Stewart this year? If they do, look out. But even if they don’t, they’re going to have a couple of players who will seeing lots of action at wide receiver and in the secondary. Defense will be priority for cornerback Brandon Daniel and safety Thabo Mwaniki, but they’ll get on the field on offense in what Guyer coach John Walsh calls “money time.”

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Preseason questions: Man in the middle

 

Guyer linebacker Dharrius Timmons (25) brings down Keller's quarterback in a game last season at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex. David Minton/DRC

Guyer linebacker Dharius Timmons (25) brings down Keller’s quarterback in a game last season at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex. David Minton/DRC

The Guyer Wildcats are set to begin fall practice on Monday, and with a week to go before that early morning practice comes, we’re going to take a look at five preseason questions/things to watch for in the upcoming season.

Guyer is set to open their 10th regular season in program history on Aug. 28 in the re-opening of Allen Eagle Stadium against the three-time defending Class 6A Division I state champion Eagles. Before that, the Wildcats scrimmage Euless Trinity and have a lot of practices leading up to that.

Question: The Wildcats have had a pretty stellar run of great play from the middle linebacker spot, but Dharius Timmons has something many of them didn’t have — experience. Can he build on a solid junior year and be the next great one as a senior?

Last year as a junior in his first year starting for Guyer, Timmons racked up 91 tackles in 12 games with 13 coming behind the line of scrimmage. He added two sacks, four pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a recovery. Most importantly, he got a full year of experience under his belt at one of the most important positions on the Guyer defense, and one with a rich history in recent years.

Several key figures in Guyer’s football history have played the “Mike” in the Wildcats’ defense — most recently Dominic Ramacher, Terence Belton and Marcel Thomas. Those three names each got just one year as the starter in the middle. Timmons is about to enter his second year as the team’s starter.

For that reason, Timmons is far ahead of any of those three entering their senior seasons, and that should play heavily in his favor. He’s already a cerebral player with off-the-charts intelligence at the position. One thing Guyer coaches noted was that he has to shore up his tackling this year and become a more sure tackler, but he has everything else you want in a standout high school middle linebacker.

The experience he has is key, and it’ll be interesting to see what we’ll be saying about Timmons when this season comes to an end, whenever that may be.

Coming Thursday: Two-way troopers

From Tuesday: Filling a void

From Monday: Buying into bulk

Preseason questions: Running back by committee

Ryan running back Tyreke Davis breaks free for a run early last season against Wylie East (Matt Garnett/For the Record-Chronicle)

Ryan running back Tyreke Davis breaks free for a run early last season against Wylie East. (Matt Garnett/For the Record-Chronicle)

Ryan won’t start its first practice of 2015 until first-thing Monday morning, but I thought it would be a good idea to touch on five key questions/things to look for heading into the “big day.” I’ll focus on one per day.

Question # 3 — Ryan featured a run-heavy offense last year, and as a team amassed 2,403 yards on the ground. Much of that workload was thanks to a veteran offensive line and senior running back Maurice Gordon. Gordon was a speedy back and rushed for 1,233 yards and six scores. Without him in the fold, though, who will be the new “face” of the Raider run game in 2015? 

The quick answer is running back by committee. Now for the long, drawn-out explanation: Tyreke Davis rushed for 412 yards and six touchdowns in limited action as a sophomore, and he is the projected starter coming into this season. Davis is a stud and will prove that as he gets more carries this season. There was one play last year where the Raiders were backed up against their own end zone and Davis took a quick handoff, shrugged off a stiff clothesline from a defender, and sped away for a 90-plus yard touchdown.

But Davis is also the team’s starting linebacker, having racked up 111 tackles (16 behind the line of scrimmage) last year. Because the Raiders clearly need him on both sides of the ball, that’s where the running back by committee strategy comes into play. Coach Dave Henigan plans to have a host of running backs (Keith Cole and Tamar Butts immediately come to mind as options) ready to go, and all could see some legitimate playing time as the season wears on.

Add in the dual-threat ability of sophomore quarterback Spencer Sanders, and the Raiders should reprise their role as one of the top rushing teams in District 5-6A.

Coming Thursday: Defense, Defense, Defense

From Tuesday: Where’s the beef?

From Monday: Cutting down on turnovers

Preseason questions: Where’s the beef?

Ryan OT Dave Bolisomi sets up for a block earlier this season against Keller Fossil Ridge.

Former Ryan OT Dave Bolisomi sets up for a block last season against Keller Fossil Ridge. (David Minton, for the Record-Chronicle)

Ryan won’t start its first practice of 2015 until next Monday morning, but I thought it would be a good idea to touch on five key questions/things to look for heading into the “big day.” I’ll focus on one per day.

Question # 2 — The Raiders lost a ton of production and experience from its stout offensive line from a year ago, with some of the bigger names lost to graduation including David Bolisomi (TCU) and Dakota Laws (Abilene Christian). Ryan could have some playmakers on offense, but who is going to keep that young quarterback Spencer Sanders upright?

Ryan struggled last year and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, but the experience it had on the offensive line helped fuel an offense that relied heavily on the run. Ryan amassed 2,403 rushing yards last year.

The Raiders return just one offensive linemen from last year, and Matt Pruett is that guy. Coach Dave Henigan said Pruett, who played guard last year, will likely make the move to center or tackle. He’s a senior, and he’s really good.

After that, though, the rest of the spots are a little unclear as the team heads into its first fall workout. Though no positions have been set, Henigan said seniors Will Wilson and Nick Back each had a tremendous spring. Junior Dawson Lahart was injured last year, but could factor in with several other hopefuls in what is a wide-open position of need.

The good news is this: Ryan has a long history of producing really good offensive linemen, and this year should be no different. They may not be household names yet, but Henigan is banking on this new crop of linemen.

Coming Wednesday: Running back by committee

From Monday: Cutting down on turnovers

Liberty-ex Lundblade earns scholarship at OSU

Just like that, former Liberty Christian offensive lineman Brad Lundblade, far right in the picture, was put on scholarship today by Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy.

It’s a neat deal for Lundblade, who turned down 10 Football Bowl Subdivision offers to walk on at Oklahoma State. That was a big risk to take, but one Lundblade had obviously thought a lot about.

After one year, it’s paid off for him, and it’s not a surprise.

As Kyle Fredrickson wrote back in April, Lundblade made his first career start against Baylor as a freshman walk-on center. It was overshadowed by freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph making his debut the same night, but it was equally impressive.

“We were in it together, and we were confident in what we could do,” Rudolph told the Oklahoman. “Whenever you kind of get thrown into the fire together, you’re going to have a special bond.”

It’s a good story of good fortune for Lundblade, who put himself at risk by passing up so many opportunities for a free education. But now, it’s one that’s paid off in a big way as he’s set to compete for the starting center job this fall and be a key player in the Big 12 for years to come.

 

Preseason questions: Cutting down on turnovers

Ryan quarterback Spencer Sanders eludes a Trophy Club Nelson defender last year. (Mike Mezeul, for the DRC)

Ryan quarterback Spencer Sanders eludes a Trophy Club Nelson defender last year. (Mike Mezeul, for the DRC)

Ryan won’t start its first practice of 2015 until next Monday morning, but I thought it would be a good idea to touch on five key questions/things to look for heading into the “big day.” I’ll focus on one per day.

Question #1 — The Raiders are not the same young team they were last year and will look to shore up an offense that struggled to protect the football. Quarterback Spencer Sanders is healthy and appears to have weapons at running back and out wide in the passing game. But will the added experience be enough to win the turnover war each week?

It’s easy to point fingers at offensive miscues, but you can argue that the Raiders’ turnover issues were just as much a defensive problem. Ryan turned the ball over 23 times (17 fumbles, six interceptions) last year, but only forced 13 turnovers defensively. The Raiders only forced two turnovers in their five losses.

As we all know, Ryan finished 5-5 and missed playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons.

The answer, as coach Dave Henigan likes to say, is that Ryan needs to be better on both sides of the ball. Ken McLaurin leads a stout defensive line that should be able to put more pressure on opponents. He is also one of eight guys returning on that side of the ball who either started or saw significant playing time. Included in that mix is free safety Alan Rojas, who had six interceptions last year.

With those two setting the tempo and potentially creating short field position for the offense, we could see a resurgence from the Raiders in 2015. Either way, the offense needs to use the rough lessons of last year to protect the ball and put points on the scoreboard when they do have it.

Coming Tuesday: What will the offensive line look like?