Predicting the District 28-5A race
The top four teams from each district advance to the University Interscholastic League playoffs, which start on Nov. 16. The two schools with the largest enrollments compete in the Division I bracket and the two smaller schools advance to Division II.
(School enrollments are in parentheses.)
1. Brackenridge (2,114): Willie Hall starting 23rd season as Eagles’ head coach.
2. Highlands (1,901): Owls looking to maintain momentum of past two seasons.
3. Lanier (2,002): Gritty Voks will be in thick of district race again.
4. Sam Houston (1,219): Cherokees have made playoffs seven of past eight seasons.
5. Edison (1,856): Golden Bears starting season with new coach Jesse Monreal.
6. Kennedy (1,360): Coach Michael Inco has Rockets headed in right direction.
7. Jefferson (1,888): Where have you gone, Tommy Nobis and Gabe Rivera?
8. Burbank (1,455): Bulldogs only three years removed from 5-5 season.
9. Memorial (1,294): Nowhere to go but up for the Minutemen.
Preseason Offensive MVP: Highlands running back/wide receiver Rene Palomino
Preseason Defensive MVP: Brackenridge linebacker Ruben Perez
Here is a breakdown of each team in District 28-5A:
1. Brackenridge Eagles
Coach: Willie Hall, 125-110 in 22 seasons at Brackenridge
2016 records: 6-5 overall, 6-2 in District 28-5A (third)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Richmond Foster 72-12 in 5A Division I bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 4/4
Season opener: at Somerset, Sept. 1
District 28-5A opener: vs. Kennedy, Sept. 14, Alamo Stadium
Outlook: Brackenridge returned to the playoffs last year after a one-year absence from the postseason. The Eagles have made the playoffs nine of the past 10 years under Hall, the longest-tenured coach in the San Antonio ISD at one school. Returning four starters each way, Brack is poised to return to the throne room. Senior Vincent Gonzalez, who passed for 947 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, should be one of the top quarterbacks in the district. Junior running back Edson Ortiz rushed for 348 yards and will help take some of the heat off Gonzalez. Senior lineman Greg Alvarez and senior tight end James Hernandez will lead the offensive line. Senior wide receiver Omari Matthews is also back. Senior linebacker Ruben Perez and junior end Isaiah Wallace are the ringleaders on defense. Perez had 109 tackles last season.
2. Highlands Owls
Coach: Hank Willis, first season at Highlands
2016 records: 7-4 overall, 7-1 in District 28-5A (two-way tie for first)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Rosenberg Terry 43-0 in 5A Division II bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 2/2
Season opener: at Floresville, Sept. 1
District 28-5A opener: vs. Burbank, Sept. 15, SAISD Sports Complex
Outlook: Highlands returns only two starters each way and has a new coach, but the momentum the Owls have generated the past two seasons should be enough to keep them in the district’s title chase. Willis succeeds Juan Morales, who led Highlands to back-to-back 7-4 seasons in his two years at the helm. The Owls earned a share of their first district championship in 18 seasons last year. Morales resigned in January to become head coach at Holmes, and Willis was hired at Highlands in early March. Formerly an assistant coach at Brandeis, Willis was head coach at Dallas Adams for two seasons before landing the Highlands job. Senior running back Rene Palomino, who rushed for 1,662 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, is back to fuel the offense. Junior linemen Eric Banda and Bishop Guzman, junior wide receiver Dre’chan Moody (22-336-2) and senior quarterback Joseph Palofos also are expected to make key contributions. Guzman will play on the defensive line, and junior cornerbacks Matt Garcia Rudy Aragon are expected to shore up the secondary.
3. Lanier Voks
Coach: Don Gatian, 102-100 in 19 seasons at Lanier
2015 records: 7-4 overall, 7-1 in District 28-5A (two-way tie for first)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Angleton 73-0 in 5A Division I bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 6/6
Season opener: vs. Holy Cross, Aug. 31, SAISD Sports Complex
District 28-5A opener: vs. Highlands, Sept. 21, Alamo Stadium
Outlook: After missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, Lanier stormed back to win a district co-championship last year. Starting his 20th season as the Voks’ head coach, Gatian will rely on the experience and assorted talents of six returning starters each way to keep Lanier in the thick of the district race. With dual-threat senior quarterback J.D Boone and junior running back Christian Cervantes returning, the Voks will be a load for any defense to handle. Boone passed for 1,315 yards and eight touchdowns, and ran for 307 yards and 10 more TDs. Cervantes fueled the running game, finishing his sophomore season with 1,096 yards and 11 TDs. Junior running back Ernest Ayala, junior wide receiver Joel De La Rosa, and senior linemen Nathaniel Esquivel and Santos Perez players Gatian will depend on to keep the offense moving. Junior linebacker Arturo Rivera and junior end Ozzy Torres are the linchpins of the defense.
4. Sam Houston Hurricanes
Coach: Melton Schultz, 6-5 in one season at Sam Houston
2016 records: 6-5 overall, 5-3 in District 28-5A (two-way tie for fourth)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Victoria East 56-13 in 5A Division II bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 3/3
Season opener: vs. Holmes, Aug. 31, Alamo Stadium
District 28-5A opener: vs. Edison, Sept. 15, Alamo Stadium
Outlook: Sam Houston dropped to fourth in the district last year after back-to-back district titles, but the Hurricanes still made the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Returning only three starters each way, the Hurricanes will field one of their youngest teams in years. Schultz will build his offense around one of the elder statesman on the team, senior running back Josh Harris, who rushed for 802 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Schultz also will look to senior defensive end Garland Coleman and senior defensive lineman Jeremy Myles to provide leadership. Other players expected to contribute heavily are junior running back/cornerback Brandon Adams, junior linebacker Maverick Gurisko and senior linebacker Waylon Warren. Sam Houston has advanced to the playoffs seven times in the previous eight seasons.
5. Edison Golden Bears
Coach: Jesse Monreal, first season as a head coach
2015 records: 7-3 overall, 5-3 in District 28-5A (two-way tie for fourth)
Last playoff appearance: 2014, lost to Boerne Champion 57-14 in 5A Division II bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 6/3
Season opener: at Pleasanton, Sept. 1
District 28-5A opener: vs. Sam Houston, Sept. 15, Alamo Stadium
Outlook: Edison starts a new season with a new coach. Monreal, the Golden Bears’ defensive coordinator the past five years, was promoted to head coach in May after Albert Torres resigned to become head coach at Harlandale. Edison went 52-51 in 10 seasons under Torres, and narrowly missed the playoffs last year. Monreal will rely on nine returning starters, six on offense and three on defense, to keep Edison in the playoff race. Junior linebacker Vincent Gutierrez and senior linebacker Chris Mauricio are the leaders on defense. Gutierrez had two interceptions and three forced fumbles last year, and Mauricio finished with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Senior Joshua Gonzales will start at quarterback, and will operate behind an offensive line led by senior Tanner Ahoyt and junior Miguel Nieto. Senior wide receiver Brandon Olivares caught 40 passes for 550 yards and four touchdowns last year.
6. Kennedy Rockets
Coach: Michael Inco, 6-24 in three seasons at Kennedy
2015 records: 3-7 overall, 3-5 in District 28-5A (sixth)
Last playoff appearance: 2009, lost to Kerrville Tivy 65-2 in 4A Division II bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 5/5
Season opener: vs. Central Catholic, Sept. 1, Edgewood Veterans Stadium
District 28-5A opener: vs. Brackenridge, Sept. 14, Alamo Stadium
Outlook: Slowly but surely, the Rockets are inching closer to the .500 mark. After going 1-9 in Inco’s first season in 2014, Kennedy went 2-8 in 2015 and finished 3-7 last year. With a solid core of five offensive and five defensive starters back, the Rockets could take another incremental step forward this season. The list of veterans starts with senior running back Devondre Domagalski, who rushed for 771 yards and three TDs last year. Junior quarterback Devin Salazar got playing time last season, passing for 287 yards and one TD and rushing for 340 yards and three TDs. Lamont Teamer, who had seven receptions for 148 yards and four TDs last year, is another returning starter with solid credentials. Defensively, the Rockets will be led by the quartet of junior back Justin Arriaga, senior linebacker Jaren Garcia (99 tackles, 3 sacks), senior lineman Martin Garcia and senior back Ezekiel Perez (three interceptions).
7. Jefferson Mustangs
Coach: Edward Cardenas, 2-8 in one season at Jefferson
2016 records: 2-8 overall, 2-6 in District 28-5A (seventh)
Last playoff appearance: 2012, lost to Kerrville Tivy 63-28 in 4A Division II bidistrict
Starters returning (O/D): 3/3
Season opener: vs. Antonian, Sept. 1, Alamo Stadium
District 28-5A opener: vs. Brackenridge, Sept. 22, Alamo Stadium
Outlook: The Mustangs have missed the playoffs each of the last four years and haven’t had a winning season since finishing 6-5 in 2009. Jefferson had a tough go of it in their first season under coach Edward Cardenas, but the pendulum could start to swing the other way this year. Senior linebacker Ian Garcia will be counted on to set the tone for the defense and provide leadership for the entire team. Garcia finished his junior season with 77 tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Senior running back Jalen Pena, who rushed for 347 yards last year, and senior wide receiver Jose Calvillo will be counted to help jump-smart an offense that scored only 91 points last season. Junior wide receiver/quarterback Frank Alvarado is one of the Mustangs’ most promising players. Jeff made the playoffs five years in a row before missing the cut in 2013.
8. Burbank Bulldogs
Coach: Mark Perez, 9-42 in five seasons at Burbank
2015 records: 1-9 overall, 1-7 in District 28-5A (eighth)
Last playoff appearance: 2013, lost to Kerrville Tivy 58-6 in 4A Division II bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 6/8
Season opener: vs. Pearsall, Sept. 1, SAISD Sports Complex
District 28-5A opener: vs. Highlands, Sept. 15, SAISD Sports Complex
Outlook: Burbank beat last-place Memorial 14-7 for its only victory last year, but with 15 starters back, eight on defense, the Bulldogs could have a little more bite this season. Opponents outscored Burbank 325-58 last season, so improvement on both sides of the ball is in order. Junior Xavier Andrade, senior quarterback Dylan Gusme and senior running back Marco Padilla are the offensive leaders. The defensive unit will be paced by senior cornerback Carlos Covarrubias, sophomore lineman Dennis Martinez, senior linebacker Patrick Valdez, junior linebacker James Vallejo and senior lineman Tristin Zamora. Burbank has had losing seasons in seven of the past eight years. The Bulldogs finished 5-5 in 2014 before dropping to 0-10 the next season.
9. Memorial Minutemen
Coach: Kemmie Lewis, 0-10 in one season at Memorial
2016 records: 0-10 overall, 0-8 in District 28-5A (ninth)
Last playoff appearance: 1998, lost to in Lanier 20-14 in 4A Division I bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 9/9
Season opener: Southside, Sept. 1, Edgewood Veterans Stadium
District 28-5A opener: vs. Sam Houston, Sept. 22, SAISD Sports Complex
Outlook: Memorial hit rock bottom under first-year head coach Kemmie Lewis, finishing 0-10 for the 10th time in the last 17 seasons. The Minutemen haven’t had a winning season since finishing 5-4-1 under coach Oscar Valenzuela in 1994. With nowhere to go but up, Memorial is banking on the return of 18 starters, nine each way, to lead the Minutemen out of the district cellar. Senior quarterback Anthony Esparza and senior running back Adarius Brady are back to keep the offense moving. Esparza passed for 1,434 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and Brady rushed for 890 yards and four TDs and added 200 yards receiving. Junior running back/defensive back Adrian Urdiales and junior wide receiver/outside linebacker Carlos Urdiales will get plenty of playing time. Senior linebacker Carlos Campos and senior back Juan Garza will set the pace for the defense.