NEW BRAUNFELS – The turnaround of the New Braunfels High School football program is still a work in progress, but the Unicorns took a big step last year toward restoring some of their past glory.

New Braunfels beat Clemens 35-28 in their ninth game, clinching their first playoff berth in three years and first winning season since 2010.

The Unicorns finished 6-5 after falling to Smithson Valley in their regular-season finale, and Brennan in the first round of the playoffs. But the victory against Clemens was enough to carry them through the offseason.

“It was definitely easy to build on because we had a good feeling just being able to make the playoffs in this district,” senior quarterback Ryan Redding said this week. “It was a good feeling going into the offseason. We built off it in the spring and we knew that we would have higher expectations this season, so it made us work harder.”

Off to their best start since 2007, when they finished 13-1 and lost in the state semifinals, the Unicorns host highly regarded Judson in a matchup of 3-0 teams Friday night. One of the largest crowds of the season’s first month is expected to watch the District 27-6A opener for both teams.

“It’s been fun,” Redding said of New Braunfels’ fast start. “People are excited about the season. It’s definitely a different feeling than we’ve had in the past.”

Judson and New Braunfels are No. 1 and No. 5, respectively, in the KENS 5 area Class 6A rankings. The Rockets are No. 17 in USA Today’s Super 25 national rankings, and No. 2 in the Associated Press 6A state poll.

Judson beat the Unicorns 54-13 last year and leads the series 7-4 after winning the last six.

“They have a great team,” Redding said. “Their defense is very athletic and fast. They don’t make a lot of mistakes defensively, but when they do, they recover quickly because of their speed and athletic ability.”

Friday night’s clash will feature two of the most prolific offenses and quarterbacks in the San Antonio area. The Rockets are averaging 57 points and 580.3 yards, compared to 55.7 points and 362 yards for the Unicorns.

Judson senior quarterback Julon Williams accounted for 336 of the Rockets’ 542 yards of total offense in a 62-21 rout of Roosevelt last week. He completed 6 of 9 passes for 268 yards and five touchdowns, and rushed for 68 yards and two scores. All five of his scoring strikes went to different receivers.

Williams has been Judson’s starting quarterback since midway through his freshman season, when he helped guide the Rockets to the state semifinals.

While not as fast or as athletic as Williams, Redding has been every bit as efficient for a New Braunfels offense that has scored 69 and 54 points the past two weeks. He has passed for 433 yards and eight TDs, and rushed for 417 yards and six scores.

“He’s a dual threat,” Unicorns head coach Glenn Mangold said. “He throws it well and he’s also a threat to run. He’s a good leader and manages our offense well, spreads the ball around. I think that’s one of the things that’s helped us the first three games, getting the ball to different people and spread the field a little bit.

“He’s done a good job of getting the ball where it needs to be. We’re pretty fortunate to have a kid that has the football IQ like he does. We’re not blessed with a ton of speed. Having him allows us to spread the field and make teams cover the whole field, and gives us a better chance to be successful.”

New Braunfels senior quarterback Ryan Redding passed for 1,890 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and led the Unicorns in rushing with 758 yards and seven TDs.  

Redding passed for 202 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 122 yards and two TDs in New Braunfels’ 54-42 victory against San Marcos. Each of his scoring strikes went to different receivers.

“It’s been fun,” Redding said. “We’ve really built off each game, and it’s gotten a little more challenging as we go.”

Football is in Redding’s bloodlines. His maternal grandfather, Sterling Jeter, was an assistant coach at Judson for 21 seasons (1984-2004) before leaving coaching to become athletic director of the Judson ISD in 2005.

Jeter was the Rockets’ offensive coordinator under head coaches D.W. Rutledge and Jim Rackley from 1988 until succeeding Frank Arnold as athletic director. Redding’s mother graduated from Judson.

“I went to Judson games when I was very little, but I don’t remember them,” Redding said. “Every game I ever played growing up, he (Jeter) would talk to me and correct me like I was older than I was.”

Now retired, Jeter goes to all of Redding’s games.

New Braunfels senior quarterback Ryan Redding, on the run against Clemens in a key District 27-6A  clash last season, has started 14 consecutive games for the Unicorns. 

Redding was born in Waco but has grown up in New Braunfels.

“I came to the games and did the whole flag football thing when I was in elementary school,” Redding said. “I wanted to play for New Braunfels someday.”

Redding played wide receiver on the Unicorns’ varsity as a sophomore, and has been their starting quarterback since last year’s season opener.

“Obviously the year of experience counts tremendously,” said Jim Streety, who retired from coaching in 2014 to become athletic director of the New Braunfels ISD. “He’s obviously more confident, but he’s stronger and more physical now than he was last year because he had another good year of offseason. The combination of those things has got him playing the way he’s playing.”

Streety finished his career with a 343-131-3 record, and won more games than any other high school football coach in San Antonio high school history. He led New Braunfels to the state semifinals four times before he went on to a 23-year stint at Madison.