State runner-up Crawford should control this district.
The Pirates fell three points short of glory last season and have the offensive weapons to make another deep playoff run. A backfield duo to remember is Garrett Dutschmann and Gage Pearson. These two should once again light it up, catapulting the Pirates to the top of the district one more time.
De Leon is a threat to Crawford, though, posting a 9-3 record last season and welcoming back 15 starters from the Bearcats’ 2016 squad. Quarterback Kevin Yeager has been nothing short of phenomenal for De Leon in his career, hurling for more than 3,000 yards and 41 touchdowns a year ago.
Hamilton and Valley Mills seem to be sleepers in District 7-2A Division I and could make thing very interesting. Both are coming off 5-5 seasons and both fell just short of the postseason. Hamilton head coach Mike Reed has seen his record improve in each of his three seasons as the Bulldogs’ coach. Valley Mills welcomes longtime assistant Sam Moody as head coach, bringing a new attitude and passing offense with him.
- LAST SEASON — 14-2 (6-0)
- RETURNING STARTERS — 5 offensive, 4 defensive
- COACH DELBERT KELM — 105-21 at Crawford
Playoff history: 54-34-3 in 37 trips, most recently 2016; 1 state championship (2004)
Base offense: Split back veer
Base defense: 5-2
Outlook: What a ride the Pirates took us on in 2016.
The Pirates fell three points shy of winning it all, losing to Refugio, 23-20, in the Class 2A Division I state championship game at AT&T Stadium last December. It was undoubtedly one of the best games of the year in the state playoffs, with Refugio’s kicker hitting the game-winning field goal with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Crawford is known for deep postseason runs, but the Pirates’ 2016 season will go down as one for the ages. Head coach Delbert Kelm knows how much it meant to the Crawford community.
“It was special for the entire community, because our school and community are such a close-knit group,” Kelm said.
Do the Pirates have enough talent to make another title push? Linebacker Lucas Steinkamp has graduated. Gone with the Tribune-Herald’s Super Centex Defensive Player of the Year are his Central Texas-leading 222 tackles and his sense of leadership. It’s a major blow, yes, but Crawford has plenty of guys who have been through the pressure cooker that is the Texas high school football playoffs.
Running back Garrett Dutschmann joins QB Gage Pearson to form an accomplished backfield that has Pirate football fans excited about 2017. Dutschmann needs no introduction, garnering nearly 1,500 total yards last season with 21 total scores. Pearson amassed over 2,000 yards and 26 scores for a Crawford offense that should be just as productive as it was a year ago.
“Garrett has worked hard this summer, gotten bigger,” Kelm said. “He has a knack for finding holes. He and Gage have come a long way and do a really good job running the offense.”
Crawford’s offensive line is where Kelm thinks the Pirates “make our living,” with three starters returning in James Harrison, Will Worrell and Seth Kohlscheen.
“We pride ourselves on our line,” he said. “We know this is where it starts and we are going to be physical.”
Koby Smith will move into a playcaller role defensively, as the linebacker can certainly build on his 2016 season in which he mowed down 154 ball carriers. Smith led the Pirates against Refugio with 11 tackles in the state title game.
“He can hit and he will be forced to be a leader on that side of the ball,” Kelm said.
As for the experience of playing for all the marbles?
“We got six bonus weeks of extra practice,” Kelm said. “Our younger guys got some reps in the playoffs — guys we will have to rely on to play and start this year.”
9/1 vs Tolar (at Whitney) 7:30
9/8 at Clifton 7:30
9/15 Meridian 7:30
9/22 at Bosqueville 7:30
9/29 De Leon 7:30*
10/6 at Hamilton 7:30*
10/13 Valley Mills 7:30*
10/20 at San Saba 7:30*
10/27 Goldthwaite 7:30*
11/10 at Hico 7:30*
- LAST SEASON — 5-5 (2-4)
- RETURNING STARTERS — 5 offensive, 5 defensive
- COACH MIKE REED — 8-22 at Hamilton
All-time: 423-463-31 since 1915
Playoff history: 9-13 in 13 trips, most recently 2011; 0 state championships
Base offense: Pistol-Pro I
Base defense: 3-3
Outlook: It’s hard to imagine a better turnaround at a small school than the job Mike Reed has done at Hamilton.
From an 0-10 record in his first year at the helm in 2014 to a near-playoff team in 2016, the Bulldogs aren’t a perennial doormat of Class 2A anymore. Reed and his coaches have instilled a winning culture which has seen his roster more than double in size from year one to year four.
“We had to play some linemen at quarterback and some quarterbacks as linemen,” Reed said. “It was something we needed to fix, so we got the community together and made some changes.”
His seniors were the catalysts of Hamilton’s turnaround and Reed expects big things from those guys this year. Center Branson Armstrong and RB/LB Martin Najera are two guys Reed will count on to push the Bulldogs into the postseason.
“I am ecstatic at the types of kids Branson and Martin are,” Reed said. Branson is our anchor on offense. They started this whole thing four years ago.”
Sophomore QB Grayson Moore is surrounded by upperclassmen to guide him, but Reed likes what he sees in his young signal caller.
“He’s a very confident kid,” Reed said. “From the spring to now, he’s gotten a lot better. He’s an athlete.”
9/1 Tomball Christian 7:00
9/8 at Millsap 7:00
9/15 at Moody 7:30
9/22 Thorndale 7:30
9/29 at Goldthwaite 7:30*
10/6 Crawford 7:30*
10/13 at Hico 7:30*
10/20 De Leon 7:30*
11/3 at Valley Mills 7:30*
11/10 San Saba 7:30*
Valley Mills Eagles
- LAST SEASON — 5-5 (2-4)
- RETURNING STARTERS — 3 offensive, 3 defensive
- COACH SAM MOODY — 0-0 at Valley Mills
All-time: 497-366-33 since 1920
Playoff history: 26-20-1 in 21 trips, most recently 2011; 0 state championships
Base offense: Shotgun, I-formation
Base defense: 3-4
Outlook: It’s a year of transition for the Eagles.
Gone (to Axtell) is head coach Eric Blenden, coming in is first-time man-in-charge Sam Moody, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator a season ago.
Fans of the Eagles might be a bit confused on Friday nights. Valley Mills has been a run-first team, but those days are over. Moody plans to run the ball quite a bit, but the Eagles will line up in the shotgun and throw it around more than the recent past.
Moody welcomed in Midway transfer quarterback Kolton Kendrick, someone he believes can make the Eagles far better through the air.
“Kolton is smart and does a really good job reading,” he said. “He can spin it.”
Former quarterback Chase Keeton will move to the outside and play receiver, giving the Eagles a quick, smart playmaker in the passing game. “He’s a natural runner,” Moody said.
Valley Mills struggled to field a full roster last year, as roughly 30 players made up the entire football program. Moody, who also coaches basketball, has changed that. Just over 50 students have thrown on the helmet and pads so far this season, something that should cure the Eagles’ fatigue struggles of the past.
“When I started, I had it in mind to really get these basketball guys out,” Moody said. “We got tired fairly easily last season and we like how athletic these basketball guys are. They can run and jump.”
9/1 at Italy 7:30
9/8 Palmer 7:30
9/15 Hubbard 7:30
9/22 at Blooming Grove 7:30
9/29 at San Saba 7:30*
10/6 Goldthwaite 7:30*
10/13 at Crawford 7:30*
10/20 Hico 7:30*
10/27 at De Leon 7:30*
11/3 Hamilton 7:30*