District 9-5A Division I
1. Port Arthur Memorial
Coach: Brian Morgan, first season
2017: 9-2 overall, 7-1 in District 22-5A
Best record: 13-2 in 2011. The Titans won the Region III-5A Division II title the year La Porte shocked Katy 9-7 (and Dekaney won it all). They beat La Porte in the regional finals 34-6 before falling to Cibolo Steele 51-31 in the state semifinals.
Playoff history: The Titans are 13-11 in the playoffs.
Returning starters/lettermen: 10 (3 offense, 7 defense) returning starters, 15 lettermen.
Offense: Javontae Hopkins is a versatile playmaker for first-year coach Morgan. The 5-foot-9 senior can also play defensive back but excels using his speed out of the backfield and on special teams. The 6-foot-2 Chan Rubin is a capable junior wide receiver.
Defense: DT DaJuan McMillan and OLB Lazarus May, a second-team all-district pick and tackling machine, highlight an experienced defense that’s likely to lead the way early for the Titans. DL Keoni Evans is another standout tackle on a disruptive defensive line. DB Jacob Washington returns in the secondary.
Season/district opener: The Titans open with Deer Park at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at Memorial Stadium. They begin district play with Galena Park at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, at Memorial.
Prediction: The Titans have fared in well in 5A, going from back-to-back three-win seasons in 2014 and 2015 to 19 total wins the last two years. They also shared a district title the last two seasons, and they’re in line for an outright championship this season, despite Morgan replacing Kenny Harrison, who left for Summer Creek after nine years.
Coach: Robin Kirk, fourth season
2017: 7-2 overall, 7-1 in District 24-5A
Best record: 9-2-2 district champs in 1939.
Playoff history: The Mustangs are 3-9-1 in the playoffs. They qualified the last two years after a five-year drought.
Returning starters/lettermen: 17 (9 offense, 8 defense) returning starters, 30 lettermen.
Offense: The Mustangs were set to challenge for the district title before losing star QB Malik Hornsby, who transferred to Fort Bend Marshall. Still, they return the most experience in the district, with WR Donald Harper and RB Michael Mata the top returners on offense.
Defense: LB Devin Brown stands 6-2, 225, and fellow backer Lloydarius Garner is 6-0, 225. They combined for 110 tackles and nine sacks last season and could double that total with a more experienced unit this year. DL Jeremiah McClain also returns after registering four sacks in an injury-shortened campaign.
Season/district opener: The Mustangs open with North Forest at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at Cowart Stadium. They face Goose Creek Memorial in their district opener at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, at Barnett Stadium.
Prediction: Losing Hornsby hurts bad. No sugar coating that. But the Mustangs still boast the most experienced group in the district, and they have a state championship coach - Kirk won state titles with St. Pius X in 2006 and 2007 - who’s doing great things on campus, so they’re still a contender.
3. Kingwood Park
Coach: Clayton Maple, fourth season
2017: 5-4 overall, 5-3 in District 21-5A
Best record: The Panthers went 8-3 in 2011 and 8-4 in 2010.
Playoff history: They’re 2-5 in the playoffs. They returned after a two-year drought last season. The Panthers’ last win was over Nederland in bi-district in 2014.
Returning starters/lettermen: 9 (3 offense, 6 defense) returning starters, 16 lettermen.
Offense: K-Park is young on offense but Maple said physical 6-0, 195-pound senior Sam Johansen is ready to go at quarterback after playing safety as a sophomore and linebacker last season. Seniors WR Tylan Johnson and OG Austin Wilding also return, along with junior RB Desmond Benjamin, the anchor leg on the school’s 400-meter relay last spring.
Defense: The Panthers have a new defensive coordinator in Cory Sterling, who previously was an assistant head coach/DC at Summer Creek. He’s building around returning starters CB Will Smoot, MLB Clay Sowell and DE Hayden Park - all seniors who’ve played together since they were freshmen.
Season/district opener: The Panthers tangle with Angleton in their season opener at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at Turner Stadium and open district against Porter at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at Turner.
Prediction: K-Park leaned on defense to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years, and with Sterling replacing the departed Lee Wilkins at DC - and six returning starters - the unit isn’t expected to fall off. If Austin struggles to move forward with Hornsby, the Panthers will move up in the pecking order and challenge Memorial for the district title.
4. New Caney Porter
Coach: Jim Holley, third season
2017: 7-4 overall, 6-2 in District 21-5A
Best record: The Spartans went 7-3 two years ago and 7-4 last season.
Playoff history: They’re 0-2 in the playoffs, with their first appearances the last two postseasons.
Returning starters: 8 (4 offense, 4 defense)
Offense: With Hornsby sliding over to Fort Bend, QB Zane Russell may be the best returning signal caller in the district. He threw for 1,453 yards and 10 TDs last season and returns his top two targets in WR Sevonne Rhea and Taylor Baker.
Defense: Baker also is a capable cover man in Porter’s secondary, and FB Zhyon Bell is expected to move to linebacker, fortifying the middle of the defense. Defensive end Logan Martin and defensive back Kaleb Bailey also return.
Season/district opener: The Spartans face C.E. King in their season opener at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at Crenshaw Memorial Stadium. They start district play with K-Park at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at Turner Stadium.
Prediction: The Spartans are on the upswing after shocking the area with two productive seasons in Holley’s first two years on the job. The next step for the program is beating rival New Caney, who is 8-0 in the series, and winning the first playoff game - two goals that certainly appear achievable this season.
5. New Caney
Coach: Brady Pennington, eighth season
2017: 8-3 overall, 7-1 in District 21-5A
Best record: The Eagles went 9-2 in 1995 and 1997 and 9-3 in 2016.
Playoff history: They’re 2-10 in the playoffs. They posted their first two playoff wins the last two years in bi-district, 31-28 over Beaumont Central in 2016 and 28-21 over Vidor last year.
Returning starters/lettermen: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense) returning starters, 25 lettermen.
Offense: The district endured another big blow with WR Dwight McGlothern’s decision to transfer to Cedar Hill Trinity Christian. In fact Dave Campbell’s pegged McGlothern and Hornsby as its preseason district Defensive and Offensive MVPs, and now they’re both gone. Considering the Eagles also graduated Jordan Cooper, they have work to do on offense.
Defense: McGlothern’s exit also robs the Spartans of an elite safety who supplied four INTs a year ago. But they remain in better shape on defense, especially in the secondary with CBs C.J. Sanders and Jaylen Neal returning. Neal also snagged four picks last season.
Season/district opener: The Eagles open the season with Crosby at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at Texan Drive Stadium. They face Wisdom in their district opener at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, at Texan Drive.
Prediction: The offensive losses really hurt but Pennington’s established a winning culture at New Caney, where the football team’s turned in three consecutive winning seasons after 10 consecutive seasons of futility. They’ll still contend for a playoff spot, and another win over rival Porter likely puts them in for the fourth straight year.
6. Galena Park
Coach: George Young, second season
2017: 1-8 overall, 0-7 in District 23-5A
Best record: 13-1 in 1964. The Yellowjackets also went 12-2 in 1961.
Playoff history: They’re 9-14 in the playoffs. The last playoff win was in 1969. They lost in the state finals in 1961 and 1964.
Returning starters: 14 (5 offense, 9 defense)
Offense: Athletic senior QB Julian Macias gives the Yellowjackets a chance. He’s a true dual-threat after starring at receiver last season and as an outfielder in baseball last spring. RB Arturo Garcia and WR Patrick Hernandez are young but promising playmakers.
Defense: With nine returning starters, the Yellowjackets will lean on defense. LB John Juneau (6-0, 215) has good size and a nose for the football. He supplied 87 tackles last season. LB Pedro Saldana registered 46 tackles a year ago. DL Jadevion Taylor and DE Alex Gomez highlight the D-line.
Season/district opener: The Yellowjackets tackle Pasadena in their season opener at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at Galena Park ISD Stadium. They open district with Port Arthur Memorial at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, at Memorial Stadium.
Prediction: An experienced defense gives the Yellowjackets a chance but they haven’t posted a winning record since their last playoff appearance in 2010. They have only seven wins the last four years combined. A playoff return still will be difficult but they should stay out of the basement, and a four- or five-win season would be a significant improvement.
7. Goose Creek Memorial
Coach: Bren Jones, third season
2017: 1-8 overall, 0-7 in District 21-6A
Best record: 7-4 in 2009.
Playoff history: The Patriots are 0-4 in the playoffs with their last appearance in 2013.
Returning starters/lettermen: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense) returning starters, 20 lettermen.
Offense: Junior RB B.J. Peterson can move the football. He rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a freshman at 2A Division II Hull-Daisetta before transferring to Goose Creek, where he made a 6A all-district team last season. The Pats also return QB Christian Kaopua, and OL Jace Davis headlines an experienced line.
Defense: DB Ke’Shaun Jnoffin racked up 108 tackles last season. He leads the way again this year. Athletic DB Holden Hill established his ball-hawking skills with three INTs a year ago, and LB Dalton Williams established a path to the quarterback with four sacks.
Season/district opener: The Patriots play Sam Rayburn at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at Pasadena Memorial Stadium. They open district with Austin at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, at Barnett Stadium.
Prediction: Peterson will shine as a junior, likely breaking the 1,000-yard rushing mark, but the Patriots still will struggle in a top-heavy district, despite dropping back down to 5A. They won only one game in each of their 6A seasons and went 4-6 back-to-back in 2014 and 2015 in 5A.
Coach: Jacque Tinsley, second season
2017: 0-8 overall, 0-8 in District 24-5A
Best record: The Generals were 11-1-1 district champs in 1971.
Playoff history: They’re 6-7 in the playoffs, with their last appearance in 1979.
Returning starters: N/A
Offense: All-district TE Shamar Dillon returns, giving the team at least one playmaker to target in a rebuilding season. Junior OT Demoy Willock shined in the offseason
Defense: Dillon is a capable linebacker, too. FS Denzel Smith, a two-year letterman last season, is expected to return. But the defense gave up 47 points per game last season, and this grouping isn’t any easier than the one they faced last season.
Season/district opener: The Generals take on Furr in their season opener at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at Butler Stadium. They open district at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, at Texan Drive Stadium against New Caney.
Prediction: The Generals went 12 years without football before restarting the program in 2012, and they’re still trying to get on track after a rough first six years. Tinsley went 0-8 in his first year replacing Daryl Hobbs, and with little experience returning, they’re likely in for another difficult campaign.