PORT ARTHUR —
On Monday, the Port-Neches Groves football team will open fall camp along with all the other area teams who help practices this spring. Instead of revisiting some of those spring storylines, let’s celebrate all of District 20-4A’s teams returning to practice by breaking down the district race this season.
Nederland appears to be in an unfamiliar position: the favorites. Most every preseason publication has the Bulldogs taking the district title for a third straight season. However, the biggest problem here is more anecdotal than anything. 20-4A has historically been tough on teams trying to repeat as district title winners. Last year, Livingston was the odds-on favorite in preaseason to repeat, and they suffered through an injury plagued season that saw them completely miss the playoffs.
Still, they sit at the top of this list because of the overwhelming talent they return. That includes what may turn out to be the best Bulldog defensive line in 20 years and nine returning starters on offense. If junior players like Colton Kimler and De Shawn Washington progress, this team could be a dangerous collection of talent.
Port Neches-Groves probably won’t get ranked highly by many people right now, because there’s been so much turnover on offense. Replacing a quarterback, a two-year starter at running back and maybe the best wide receiver in school history is hard to do.
But, there’s a big reason why PN-G may not miss a beat and he roams the sidelines during practice and games. Head coach Brandon Faircloth has shown a knack for developing a system that allows his players to be successful, no matter how they are regarded before the season. There are high hopes for A.J. Smith as the new starter at quarterback, but it’s the scheme he’s in that may be the biggest boost for this offense.
If the defense can be the stalwart while Smith, receiver Logan Chipman and running back Spencer Wommack figure out how to run this offense, PN-G should make a fourth straight trip to the playoffs under Faircloth.
No team has received more preseason hype than Vidor. Head coach Jeff Mathews was named Class 4A Coach of the Year by Texas Football and his team returns a ton of starters. Is this a breakthrough for the program or were they a one-year wonder?
Since they didn’t lose many players, bet on another playoff appearance. The defense will again be stout, and Mathews has a returning trigger man in 20-4A Defensive MVP Montana Quirante to run his option from the quarterback spot. If there’s an area of concern here, it’s with Quirante, who also starts at middle linebacker. That means he’s absorbing a lot of contact every game. He didn’t have any significant injury issues last season, but if he does get banged up, this team could struggle to replace his overall impact.
Then again, what team wouldn’t struggle to replace a starting QB?
Beaumont Ozen lost a dynamic quarterback in Trey Green, who carried them on a significant playoff run last year. However, the Panthers also return the reigning district MVP in Jakobi Jones, who possesses game-breaking speed. He could step right into the spotlight this season and take a ton of pressure of new QB Jordan Ozen.
Add in the immensely talented Tony Brown and this team could be the most purely talented team in 20-4A. That’s why it’s hard to count them out of the playoffs and why they’ll probably grab the final playoff spot this season.
Livingston still has one of the best players in the state in Chevoski Collins, who is a little like Quirante in that he anchors both the offense and defense from his QB and safety spots. However, the Lions showed last season that they can’t make the playoffs just on Collins’ awesome athleticism. They needed a diverse running game, which broke down last season when Devonte Mays got injured.
The Lions lost both Mays and Antonio White to graduation, and will have to replace both for that physical running game to take off again. They should be in the mix for that final playoff spot with Ozen and the next team on this list.
LC-M took a step forward last season, but suffered through a ton of injuries and faded down the stretch. Can they stay healthy this year? They’ll get dynamic playmaker Alex Sezer back, which will help them compete week in and week out. Still, this isn’t an incredibly deep team, so the Bears will need a healthy season to avoid another late-season fade.
Central is another team that suffered greatly with injuries. Quarterback Robert Mitchell can be one of the best two-way threats in the district if he’s right, but he came into last season with a nagging injury against Port Arthur Memorial and never looked comfortable. The Jaguars have the talent, but it needs to come together for them to make a leap into the playoffs.
Lumberton played like a team with a much better record last season, but couldn’t ever come out on top. They had a low point differential in most of their losses, but luck seemed to be against them. Still, as Vidor showed last season, in this district, any team can come together at the right time and make a run. Maybe this is the season that the Raiders make that similar leap.